Details are emerging of the first unmanned 'passenger plane' to successfully complete a flight. The Flying Test Bed flew 500 miles, from Warton in Lancashire to Inverness, however it wasn't completely alone. Aparently, the take-off and landing were performed by an on-board pilot however that actual flight itself was performed by a pilot situated on the ground, controlling via the high-tech instruments on the aircraft as well as help from Air Traffic Control.
Though only a small 16-seater, the feat is being hailed as a leap forward in the future of air travel as the experiment successfully proved that unmanned civilian aircrafts can operate in the commercial airways. The one big concern that they do have however is that the technology is not yet available that can replace the detection of the human eye-ball.
It's no secret that the systems of modern day planes are so sophisticated that they can basically fly themselves, however they do lack that human ability to make quick judgement calls that can potentially save lives. You only have to look back to the US Airways Flight 1549 where the pilot managed to successfully save the entire crew and passengers by making an emergency landing on the Hudson River. I very much doubt any modern day computer system would have been as successful (if at all) in repeating such a task.
The big question is however, would you want to fly in a plane that has no pilot? The mere fact that the pilot is safe on the ground while you are the ones trapped in a metallic object flying at 800km/h is enough to make anyone uneasy. Then again, planes are practically the safest places to be right now given all the safety testing they must go through.
[via BBC and New Scientist]