Beyond Military Drones – The Future Pilotless Flight

In the month of April 2013, a research airplane, BAE Systems Jetstream, flew from Preston, England, to Inverness, Scotland, and back. This flight of 800 kilometers should not have been spectacular and noteworthy, if there was not a small detail, such as the fact that the airplane pilot was on the ground in Warton, Lancashire, and that the flight was autonomous. This event can represent a new step forward in the history of civil aviation, namely, the advent of commercial flights without pilot on board.

The Jetstream flight was effected as part of the program Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation & Assessment (ASTRAEA), program initiated in Great Britain, which targets the development of pilotless airliners that can normally function in the civilian airspace. It is one of the hundreds UAV projects worldwide, but what is notable about it, is the switching from the supervising UAV to the passenger transportation UAV, a potential developing field.

Fig. 1: The Jetstream modified airplane that flew 800 kilometers without a pilot, ground assisted

Who invented the expression ”the future is now”, was a visionary, but now, more than ever it applies to the UAS systems. Along the time, there were skeptics who predicted that these UAVs will disappear in a marginal activity. Now, with all this skepticism, their employment appears to have been culminating, at least in the military operations. The present conflicts have demonstrated the increased role of pilotless airplanes, both, for research and data gathering, and for the performance of combat missions. Taking into consideration the importance of information, supervising and real-time exploration, the pilotless airplane systems, pursuant to their progress, will spreadingly come into prominence as significantly important means in all the preparatory and execution stages of the military actions, with great influences on the results.

Fig. 2: New drones capable to enter the battlefield


Furthermore, these systems helped the development of new technologies, the emergence of innovative materials, new sensors, and new challenges in biotechnology. The advent of UAS determined the change of the military doctrines, and of the way in which the battle performs in modern conflicts.

The scientists involved in the field are most probable astonished by the opportunities that could appear. However, it occurs the difficulty of predicting the possibility of future applications.  The domain is practically unlimited, the only limitations that could occur, being the legislation or the public interest, and by no means the technical constraints. A proposal that has been contested for so long is that of substituting the navigating personnel with autonomous airplanes for passenger transportation, even though the costs would significantly decrease (salaries for the navigating personnel, accommodation, the costs for the training of the personnel etc.). Any economy is unlikely to be balanced with the psychological response of the passengers who would prefer to think of the navigating personnel in the airplane for getting home safely.

For many people, the UAVs appeared from nowhere. Practically, for the public opinion, they appeared as an exotic surveillance airplane in the early days of the war in Afghanistan. After that moment, they grew in number and refinement, until they turned into combat aircraft capable of taking off from carriers. In fact, the UAVs have developed from a range of non-military fields.



  1.  http://”Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – The Force Multiplier of the 1990s”



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