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Cargo planes takes first uncrewed flight

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A cargo plane has completed an autonomous flight in the skies north of Hollister, California, in what is being heralded as a first for aviation. The Cessna 208B Caravan was fitted with an autonomous flight system from Reliable Robotics that automated all phases of the aircraft’s journey, from taxi to takeoff and landing.

While there was no crew onboard the plane, the flight was supervised remotely by a pilot on the ground, located at Reliable Robotics’ control center 50 miles away. The companies released a 360-degree view of the inside of the cockpit. Reliable Robotics called the project a “significant milestone” in its work bringing safety-enhancing tech to the U.S. market.

The company said its system is aircraft agnostic and uses multiple layers of advanced navigation technology to achieve the levels of reliability needed for uncrewed flight.

Compared to a traditional autopilot, the Reliable Robotics system is able to perform all phases of a flight, including moving out of the gate and towards the runway, as well as taking off and landing. But as far as other aircraft or air traffic controllers are concerned, this is just like any other plane, Rose says, because the remote operator will respond to radio calls and handle voice communications in such a way that it’s impossible to tell they’re not aboard.

“But the challenge with this aircraft is that it flies at lower altitudes and more adverse weather conditions than many large aircraft do today. So operating it is much more dangerous, and automation is going to go a long way to improve the safety of these operations.”

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Consultancy firm AviationValues told CNN there are currently 900 Caravans in active service, and FedEx — which has been using the type since 1985 — is the largest operator with about 200 of them. Reliable Robotics is now working with the Federal Aviation Administration to certify its technology for commercial operations, and expects that process to be complete in as little as two years.


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