Remotely operated passenger drone takes maiden flight over UK skies

Eurasia News

Large civilian planes remotely operated by a controller on the ground could become a reality within just a few years, after British aerospace giant BAE conducted a successful overland UK flight of an unmanned prototype for the first time.

The Jetstream 31 – an expensive experimental project known as ‘The Flying Testbed’ that looks much like an ordinary 16-seater training plane – took off from Lancashire in northern England, and landed safely 500 miles away in Inverness in Scotland.

As a precaution, two pilots sat in the cockpit, while the entire flight was conducted by an operator back at base.

Using an automated visual detection system, the plane automatically steers away from dangerous weather formations as it sees them, while its antennae pick up signals from nearby aircraft to avoid them. The Jetstream 31 also scans the ground for potential safe landing zones in case of emergencies. In the past, the lack of “sense and avoid” technologies and other features that would ensure that drones do not cause danger to manned planes were seen as the key stumbling block for letting them into civilian skies.

US air regulator FAA has insisted that drones be integrated into the civilian airspace by 2015, and the UK plans to do so by the end of the decade.