Autonomous Aircraft

The elusive fully autonomous airliner

By Jon Kelvey

October 1, 2023

Contrary to what some passengers believe, modern airliners are not permitted or equipped to travel from gate to gate entirely on their own. Their automation software does well during cruise and landing, but it can’t taxi the aircraft or learn or think through a crisis the way a human pilot can. What would it take to get there? Jon Kelvey tells the story.

ANALYSIS: Rise of the AI fighter pilots

May 1, 2023

As powerful as artificial intelligence is, don’t expect a sophisticated collection of bits and bytes to replace Top Gun’s Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in the cockpit anytime soon. Air combat is both art and science. An air autonomy expert, a fighter pilot and a computer scientist explain how the future of uncrewed combat aircraft could unfold.

Certification conundrum

By Aaron Karp

May 1, 2023

Flying autonomously will be critical for drone operators who want to carry cargo to a variety of destinations. FAA has not determined how it would authorize such flights, throwing business plans into question. Aaron Karp spoke to manufacturers and industry groups about strategies for speeding up the FAA process and starting initial operations while those deliberations proceed.

Catching a “Gremlin”

By Keith Button

April 1, 2022

Military drones are alluring tools for spying and striking targets, but getting them flying where they need to be is a challenge. What if conventionally piloted cargo planes could fly to the outskirts of a battlefield, release a swarm of such drones, and then recover them for refueling and reloading? Keith Button tells us how DARPA and Dynetics brought this vision to the edge of reality.