Have you ever watch the Air Crash Investigation TV series from National Geographic? Then you’ll know that some air crash incidents are caused directly or indirectly by the state of the pilot.
But would getting rid of these pilots altogether from flying the airplane make the flight safer?
The technology for pilotless airliners are currently available and in some respect already operational in the use of drones, pilotless helicopters and remotely-controlled aeroplanes used in war zones.
So why don’t we have a pilotless airliner yet where 100% of the flight – take-off, landing, cruising, and taxiing – is controlled by a precise, tireless and drunk-free computer?
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January, Chinese company Ehang unveiled the first-ever passenger drone, the electric-powered Ehang 184. The quadrocopter can fit one person with a small backpack, and even has air conditioning and a light. To fly, the passenger needs to set up a flight plan, click ‘take off’ and ‘land’ on a tablet, and the computer does the rest. With its propellers folded, the 184 takes up as much room as a small car.
There are other similar efforts to develop personal air transport systems. In the US, a twin-propeller experimental plane with two passenger seats and two cockpit seats was flight-tested last year. Made by Aurora Flight Sciences Corp and called the Centaur, it can be operated by pilots from the cockpit or from the ground – and during the test, it successfully flew with no one on board.
Airbus Group is working on Vahana, an autonomous ‘flying car’ for passengers or cargo, while in Germany the Volocopter project hopes to build a ‘scaled-up’ drone that can carry one or two people. Another European endeavour, myCopter, looked into the kind of technologies that would be needed to bring personal transportation into the air. Researchers who took part in the project, from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, are still trying to figure out how to make it easier to control, says Heinrich Bülthoff, the managing director of the institute. “We try to make flying a helicopter as easy as driving a car with very little training,” he says.
Read the rest of the story from the BBC Future.