Watch: US Air Force Develops New Robot Pilot Tech to Operate Aged-Out Aircraft

In a new development from the US Air Force (USAF), researchers recently completed a multi-hour test flight that essentially turned a Cessna 206 Stationair into an unmanned aircraft.

The USAF Research Lab’s Center for Rapid Innovation and aerospace company DZYNE Technologies concluded on August 9 the first two-hour flight of their collaborative Robotic Pilot Unmanned Conversion Program, also known as “ROBOpilot.”

“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,” Dr. Alok Das, a senior scientist with the Center for Rapid Innovation, said in an August 15 press release. “All of this is achieved without making permanent modifications to the aircraft.”

The center also noted in its statement that the aircraft-operating robot takes orders from its computer, which uses GPS-like sensors to measure its “situational awareness and information gathering”

“The system ‘grabs’ the yoke, pushes on the rudders and brakes, controls the throttle, flips the appropriate switches and reads the dashboard gauges the same way a pilot does,” researchers noted.

Douglas Birkey, executive director of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, told the Federal News Network that the idea of redeploying older aircraft as unmanned fighter jets has been around for a long time. He also…

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