On Aug. 9 at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, a Cessna 206 under robotic control flew a first solo that lasted for two hours. Alas, there were no shirttails to cut.
The Air Force Research Laboratory Center for Rapid Innovation collaborated with DZYNE Technologies to produce ROBOpilot, and install it in a 1968 Stationair. While this is not the first time a general aviation airplane has flown under digital command (Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences has been making human pilots “optional” for years), ROBOpilot is far more portable. The system, visually rather evocative of a steampunk solution, is designed to be mounted on a rack that can slide into the space left by removing a pilot seat.
“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,” said Dr. Alok Das, CRI’s senior scientist, in a news release. “All of this is achieved without making permanent modifications to the aircraft.”
ROBOpilot has actuators that manipulate the yoke, rudder pedals, and throttle, and optical sensors that read steam gauges just like a human.READ MORE (AOPA)