The trials are being carried out over the Irish Sea by BAE systems and use a pilot only for taking off and landing, leaving the control of the rest of the flight in the hands of a small computer, supervised by a remote commander on the ground.
The experiment is part of the programme to use pilotless aircrafts for purposes such as search and rescue missions and coastal patrols. Eventually it is hoped that the new system could replace the co-pilot on commercial flights.
The new technology has been dubbed the Flying Test Bed and is sophisticated enough to detect weather conditions and adapted to steer the plane away from adverse conditions accordingly. It has also been developed to avoid nearby aircraft using a “visual sense and avoid” system. It has even been fitted with the necessary equipment should the plane need to make an emergency landing, with the BAE’s Engineering Director claiming that “it would understand the terrain below.”
Experts have predicted that this technology could be used to replace co-pilots as soon as by the end of the decade.