The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and DZYNE Technologies have conducted the maiden flight test of ROBOpilot unmanned air system.
The two-hour flight test of the Robotic Pilot Unmanned Conversion Program was conducted at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.
AFRL Commander major general William Cooley said: “This flight test is a testament to AFRL’s ability to rapidly innovate technology from concept to application in a safe build-up approach while still maintaining low cost and short timelines.”
ROBOpilot has been designed, built and tested by AFRL and DZYNE under a Direct to Phase II Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) contract.
It converts existing manned aircraft into autonomous unmanned aircraft without the need for permanent modifications.
The system can carry out the standard actions performed by a human pilot, including operating the yoke, rudders and brakes, throttle, switches, and read the dashboard gauges.
Additionally, ROBOpilot uses sensors such as GPS and an inertial measurement unit, for situational awareness and information gathering.
The details are gathered and analysed by an on-board computer with autopilot. The computer will make informed decisions regarding flight control.
AFRL Center for Rapid Innovation senior scientist Dr Alok Das said: “Imagine being able to rapidly and affordably convert a general aviation aircraft, like a Cessna or Piper, into an unmanned aerial vehicle, having it fly a mission autonomously, and then returning it back to its original manned configuration.”
Prior to the maiden flight, engineers tested the initial concept in a RedBird FMX simulator.
The system completed simulated autonomous take-offs, mission navigation and landings.
The ROBOpilot capability is planned to be used to carry out a range of missions such as cargo delivery, entry into hazardous environments, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.