BAE Systems has started testing unmanned aircraft technologies to evaluate how autonomous air vehicles can be integrated in the UK airspace.

The company is using a Jetstream 31 as a ‘flying testbed’ for the trials at its military aircraft engineering and manufacturing facility in Warton, Lancashire, UK.

The pilots responsible to control the aircraft operation are accommodated on board the testing platform.

The testbed has an aircraft identification antennae, which detects other aircraft’s transponder signals, as well as a cockpit mounted camera acting as an electronic eye.

The electronic eye of the Jetstream is also capable of recognising different cloud types and, if needed, plot a course that allows evasive action from challenging weather conditions, according to the company.

BAE Systems military aircraft and information business research and technology head Maureen Mccue said: “Our priority as always is to demonstrate the safe and effective operation of autonomous systems and together with NATS we are working towards the possibility of flying our own unmanned systems in a highly controlled environment in the UK.

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” BAE plans to conduct 17 test flights in total to validate the capability, maturity and safe operation of autonomous air technologies.”

“The trials are an exciting time and will give us technology options that could be applied to our own manned and unmanned aircraft, as well as potentially enabling us to take some new unmanned aircraft technologies to market.”

BAE plans to conduct 17 test flights in total to validate the capability, maturity and safe operation of autonomous air technologies controlled by a satellite-communications based link.

The company-funded trails are also aimed at developing sensing technologies including aircraft and cloud avoidance using only camera input rather than radar.

Image: The Jetstream 31. Photo: courtesy of BAE Systems.