Shattered wing plane lands – with no pilot

Automatic control can now fly planes in circumstances beyond the ability of human pilots, prompting the vision of personal air cars

An unmanned aircraft has had most of one wing blown off – and then flown and safely landed on automatic.

The demonstration has clearly shown that this form of air vehicle control can now do more than most human pilots ever could.

Costs and weights of automated avionic systems are dropping, so that such systems could be reliably installed in low-cost light aircraft. Coupled with advances in air traffic control, which have already been developed to allow the integrated handling of civilian and military aircraft and UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) in Iraq, it is becoming possible not only to provide a pilot with a panic and automatically land button, but possibly to do away with the need for skilled pilots altogether.

And that opens up the possibility of human-carrying air vehicles that would require minimal skills to operate them and which could be a much more energy-efficient way of getting around than cars.

Tom Shelley

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