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Jetstream Retrofit Illustrates How Close Modern Planes Are To UAVs 205

Posted by timothy
from the hasn't-anyone-seen-airplanes-I-or-II? dept.
cylonlover writes with this Gizmag excerpt: "In April of this year, a BAE Systems Jetstream research aircraft flew from Preston in Lancashire, England, to Inverness, Scotland and back. This 500-mile (805 km) journey wouldn't be worth noting if it weren't for the small detail that its pilot was not on board, but sitting on the ground in Warton, Lancashire and that the plane did most of the flying itself. Even this alteration of a standard commercial prop plane into an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) seems a back page item until you realize that this may herald the biggest revolution in civil aviation since Wilbur Wright won the coin toss at Kitty Hawk in 1903."
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Jetstream Retrofit Illustrates How Close Modern Planes Are To UAVs

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  • That is cool, but would you? Is it more safe if the pilot can't be reached?
    • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Sunday June 30, 2013 @07:37AM (#44146743)
      Of course not. You'll be on the ground and you'll be watching the picture from the camera behind your window. First class seats will have better resolution. Economy class seats will have black and white picture.
    • by GrumpySteen (1250194) on Sunday June 30, 2013 @07:48AM (#44146787)

      At this point? No. In the future? Probably.

      If you fly commercial air flights, you already trust your life to most of the technologies involved. As the article mentions, "larger aircraft have autopilot systems that can control takeoff, ascent, cruising, descent, approach, and landing." An unmanned flight was the logical next step in the progression.

      I don't think we'll see passenger flights without pilots anytime soon, but you might begin seeing flights where you have only a co-pilot on board. It would be a long time before there would be enough evidence that the pilots weren't needed and the majority of the public would trust the systems enough to be willing to fly.

      • by mikerubin (449692) on Sunday June 30, 2013 @07:56AM (#44146831)

        Would the "majority of the public" have a choice?

        • by second_coming (2014346) on Sunday June 30, 2013 @09:17AM (#44147153)
          Yes, they could choose another airline that keeps pilots as a marketing ploy.
          • hm, yes, let me think: Gatwick to Murcia one way, pilotless: £29 or with human at the yoke: £499.

            It's a no-brainer. Unless of course, you don't fly.

            I'd rather take the Tunnel and drive for 44 hours, actually.

        • by wvmarle (1070040) on Sunday June 30, 2013 @09:22AM (#44147171)

          Yes. This would almost certainly be a democratic decision by the flying public, on whether to go pilotless or not. Thanks to the forces of economics.

          There are numerous airlines in this world, and most routes (at least the popular ones) are served by multiple companies. The smaller routes don't count much in this picture, and those are likely to be the last to be automated, for there are less savings to be made. Also volume is just a fraction of that on the main routes.

          Now if one company moves to pilotless flights, presumably to undercut the fares of the competition, the public has an obvious choice. If they accept the lower fare for a pilotless flight, the rest will follow. If they do not, the pilotless airline will have to reinstate their pilots or go out of business.

          • by sjames (1099)

            Or more likely, the other airlines will go pilotless but stuff some guy in an old uniform to act as a greeter and then sit in the cockpit while trying to look important.Then they'll run the commercials about how much they care about you.

            • by jbwolfe (241413) on Sunday June 30, 2013 @10:28AM (#44147507) Homepage
              With the current retirement age already at 65, and efforts to raise it again to 67, I think we are already where you suggest- old guys in ice cream suits. When I got hired at age 32, I was excited, but soon realized I would have to do this for a long time (age 60) before I retired. I wondered if my body or mind would give out before then- radiation exposure, embolisms, poor diet, working during WOCL, physical inactivity. As if it hasn't already...

              Every pilot starts out with two buckets. One is filled with luck, the other empty of experience. Fill the experience bucket before the luck bucket runs out.

          • by nospam007 (722110) *

            "If they accept the lower fare for a pilotless flight, the rest will follow."

            On long flights, there will be several pilots on different shifts instead of 1 tired one, if a pilot keels over for any of 500 reasons, they'll have replacements ready to take over in a second. And on arrival in Rio, the pilot in the US just drives home instead of being stuck there in a noisy hotel with a bad mattress to get fresh for the flight back and trying to get sleep with 5 or 6 drinks.
            They'll argue it's more secure and ther

      • by timeOday (582209)

        If you fly commercial air flights, you already trust your life to most of the technologies involved. As the article mentions, "larger aircraft have autopilot systems that can control takeoff, ascent, cruising, descent, approach, and landing."

        Flying is the ultimate in trusting technology, even before the autopilot. You are suspended in the air by nothing but the reliability of the engines to keep you from dropping 30,000 feet into the middle of the Pacific ocean, thousands of miles from any help. The fac

        • Nonsense. You are suspended in air by those wings, which, in the event of engine failure, are still typically operational.

          Now remove those wings, strap on a pair of more powerful engines, and ask pilots how they would feel about an engine failure.

      • by icebike (68054)

        If you fly commercial air flights, you already trust your life to most of the technologies involved. As the article mentions, "larger aircraft have autopilot systems that can control takeoff, ascent, cruising, descent, approach, and landing." An unmanned flight was the logical next step in the progression.

        The reason we have pilots is that these systems fail or fuckup all the time, but because we have pilots, its not an issue. The pilot takes over and sets things right, and none of these incidents are even reported. There is not a bit of paperwork filed when a pilot has to assume control of a take off or an approach due to any circumstance what so ever.

        Remember that even THIS flight had a pilot.

        The systems you mention work fine in "the clean room" of a totally controlled environment, and they fail with the

    • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Sunday June 30, 2013 @07:50AM (#44146799) Journal
      If it ever gets approved to civilian passenger use, the flight deck would be impregnable from the passenger cabin. All controls will be locked and so even if a terrorist gains access he/she would not be able to direct the plane to high value target. At this point all you they can do would be to crash the plane, which can be done without trying to get to the flight deck. But destroying a passenger airliner in flight would get them big headlines and attention. That is basically what the terrorists want.

      Destroying two towers and damaging one building is nothing for a country the size and might of USA. Compared to devastation of WW-II Dresden, Berlin, Stalingrad, Tokyo, Nagasaki, Hiroshima etc, 9/11/2001 does not even qualify as a flea bite. But 9/11 made more headlines and more news than all the impact made by WW-II news in its day in the prized demographics of the terrorists.

      The reaction of the media, and hence the public, is like an auto-immune reaction or allergy reaction. Some harmless pollen grains are detected in the bronchia and the body responds as though it is being invaded by the Ebola virus. So even after we deny the ability of terrorists to fly fully fueled planes into buildings, the media reaction for an attempted terrorist attack, no matter how successful, no matter how far fetched, would ensure the terrorists get their oxygen: publicity.

      What we really need to prevent terrorist attacks is large doses of anti-histamine. Just ignore the terrorists, their attempts, their successes, their failures. Only when develop the collective ability to deny them publicity we will win the war on terrorism.

      • by tlambert (566799) on Sunday June 30, 2013 @08:11AM (#44146891)

        If it ever gets approved to civilian passenger use, the flight deck would be impregnable from the passenger cabin. All controls will be
        locked and so even if a terrorist gains access he/she would not be able to direct the plane to high value target.

        You are assuming that the terrorist would be on board the plane. Iran was able to capture a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 operated by the CIA using an attack on the remote location and command and control systems.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran [wikipedia.org]–U.S._RQ-170_incident#Capture_of_the_drone

        • by jklovanc (1603149)

          That is an unsubstantiated claim by Iran. It is equally as possible that there was a glitch in the system and the drone auto landed. If Iran had the ability to capture drones electronically there would be a lot of drones being captured. It is an attempt by Iran to embarrass the US and it worked pretty well.

          By the way, please check you link before posting Here [wikipedia.org] is the correct one.

          • by Sabriel (134364)

            On the other hand, if a zero-day for remoting a popular airline's planes ever does turn up in the wrong hands, it won't be pretty.

            FEMA: "Say again, how many planes are crashing?"
            ATC: "All of them."

            • by jklovanc (1603149)

              Which is why, as in the test, there will most probably be a human pilot on board for just such an emergency.

      • by citizenr (871508)

        If it ever gets approved to civilian passenger use, the flight deck would be impregnable from the passenger cabin. All controls will be
        locked and so even if a terrorist gains access he/she would not be able to direct the plane to high value target.

        planes are fly by wire nowadays, there is no need to touch flight sticks, those are just potentiometers with force feedback, plane brain is in the lower decks next to cargo hold.

        • by slew (2918)

          planes are fly by wire nowadays

          Fly by wires isn't the same as fly by wireless which what it would be if you didn't have pilots (unless they went the way of the old "TOW" missals which were connected by fiberoptic cable).

          Given the possibilities of jamming and hacking, I think there is less of a chance of a flight deck issue than other ways of hacking/jamming...

      • The reaction of the media, and hence the public, is like an auto-immune reaction or allergy reaction. Some harmless pollen grains are detected in the bronchia and the body responds as though it is being invaded by the Ebola virus. So even after we deny the ability of terrorists to fly fully fueled planes into buildings, the media reaction for an attempted terrorist attack, no matter how successful, no matter how far fetched, would ensure the terrorists get their oxygen: publicity.

        What we really need to prevent terrorist attacks is large doses of anti-histamine. Just ignore the terrorists, their attempts, their successes, their failures. Only when develop the collective ability to deny them publicity we will win the war on terrorism.

        Similar thing with the school shooting IMO, I expect that if we stopped having a media circus after each one and turning the shitbags into celebrities we'd see a marked decrease. Instead we just keep making bigger deals and probably inspiring more people to go out in a blaze of "glory".

    • Fuck No (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That is cool, but would you? Is it more safe if the pilot can't be reached?

      There is no greater motivator to avoid crashes than having the driver up front and first to die.

      There is no way I'm getting on a plane that is controlled by somebody in a ground based armchair, sucking on Slurm, and not facing any personal risk. If the driver doesn't have skin in the game, I'm not riding.

      Pilots are a must for passenger aircraft. I'm not sure about cargo, but I'm leaning toward requiring pilots there too. Especially if they are to share airspace with passenger aircraft.

      • by MightyYar (622222)

        You are already depending on the ground controllers to keep the planes from slamming into one another. To say they have no "skin in the game" is only true if they are sociopaths. Most people would not recover from the mental anguish of killing hundreds of innocent people.

        • by denobug (753200)

          You are already depending on the ground controllers to keep the planes from slamming into one another. To say they have no "skin in the game" is only true if they are sociopaths. Most people would not recover from the mental anguish of killing hundreds of innocent people.

          Pilots can refuse the instructions by the tower by announcing their inability of compliance. Ultimately the pilots have the final say on the plane, not the ground controller.

          • Hehe, yes, let us remove minds from the areas closest to where they might do good, and keep them further and further away.

      • by swalve (1980968)
        A large percentage of people make stupider decisions when adrenalin and fear are involved.
      • Re:Fuck No (Score:4, Interesting)

        by RevWaldo (1186281) on Sunday June 30, 2013 @10:17AM (#44147461)
        One thing I wondered after 9/11 and the addition of 'reinforced cockpit doors' is whether pilots actually need access to the cabin at all. Imagine they have a separate entrance onto the plane, and are completely sealed off from the cabin once in flight. (They get all the other basic necessities of life - food, coffee, restroom, etc. - already with them up front.) Additionally, unless officials on the ground feel they need to know, the pilots have no clue what's going on in the cabin - no CCTV feed, no intercom, no cell phones, no nothing. Terrorists could be threatening to slaughter the passengers like sheep, but the pilots aren't informed. So despite the risk to the passengers, the terrorist could never get control of the plane, making an attack on a plane pointless in the first place.

        Good idea? Bad idea?

        .
        • by jbwolfe (241413)
          Great idea. Its called secondary barriers. And currently, ALPA is exerting great effort on the legislative front to mandate installation in commercial aircraft. IATA and Airlines for America (A4A) (is that not the stupidest name you ever heard?), are busy fighting this. Like most safety features, it costs money, which eats into profits. Gotta keep those ticket prices at historic lows...

          Terrorists could be threatening to slaughter the passengers like sheep, but the pilots aren't informed.

          Sorry to inform you, you are on your own back there. You will have to go postal on them yourselves. Nothing, absolutely not

        • The restroom is a bit of a problem - flight crews currently use the ones at the front of the plane. The aisles are blocked with drink carts by the flight attendants while this happens.
    • by citizenr (871508) on Sunday June 30, 2013 @08:55AM (#44147055) Homepage

      Of course not! It would be like riding in elevator without a lift man.

    • you mean like now when the cockpit is hermetically sealed from the passenger cabin?

    • We already got a deskjob in the air travel industry, it is called air traffic control. And despite the ease of staffing it, the ease of having regular, short shifts so that staff can be available, in redundant numbers for emergencies and well rested, air traffic control is routinely understaffed and overworked.

      Do you think remote pilots would be immune from the eternal pressures of cost cutting (on functional staff, never on executive wages). If one remote pilot can monitor one remote flight, why not two.

  • by gl4ss (559668) on Sunday June 30, 2013 @07:39AM (#44146753) Homepage Journal

    who would have thought that remote and autonomously controlled airplanes are airplanes!

  • I don't see the point of a remotely piloted passenger plane.

    UAFVG's are useful in military situations, but not for civilian use.

    (OK maybe remotely piloted C130 for chasing hurricanes, or other dangerous weather, or dropping supplies to Antarctic stations.)

    • by mounthood (993037)

      Unlimited replacement pilots.
      Pilots don't have to travel.
      Local pilots who know an area can assist or take over.
      AI can be integrated, or even replace the pilots without much of a change. ...

      • by jbwolfe (241413)
        Your points mentioned above are valid except I'd argue this one is not fully considered:

        AI can be integrated, or even replace the pilots without much of a change. ...

        The abstraction of real time data given to a remote pilot is a real cost to be considered, given that many aspects of flight are dynamic and unpredictable. For example: routing through weather, mountain wave, multiple system failures, OCF (out of control flight), avoidance of traffic, sequence and separation, wake turbulence, are just a few issues that are diminished by remote piloting. And AI would need to come a long w

  • The US Airforce has been flying older jets via remote control for decades as part of the drone conversion programme to allow for air to air and surface to air missile testing and training - currently they are on the early F-16s after expending the F-4 inventory.

  • Because if he crashes then at least he also dies ... so kinda extra incentive not to crash ;)

  • ... so much for the captain of the ship going down with it, eh?

    Unless these remote pilots are sitting in full simulators that force them to share the terror of passengers during an uncontrolled descent - if you know you're going to live regardless what happens to the plane and its contents - then it removes just a bit of visceral motivation to avoid it happening, doesn't it?

  • As an example, consider AF447 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_France_Flight_447 [wikipedia.org]. While the outcome of this mishap was largely due to mistakes by the pilots prior to penetrating the weather and afterward by misapplication of controls during stall, it is highly doubtful that a remote pilot could ever have effected a recovery, even if he was not responsible for getting into this situation in the first place. The abstraction of kenesthetic data might someday be improved enough to make a recovery like this pos
    • Pilots could work normal shifts and you could change your flight crew in the middle of the Pacific if they were tired or in case of a medical emergency. For some reason, the people that we depend upon the most to be alert and make important decisions, like doctors and pilots, don't seem to get enough sleep.

  • "...this may herald the biggest revolution in civil aviation since Wilbur Wright won the coin toss at Kitty Hawk in 1903."
    What hyperbolic bullshit. Not only have standard piloted planes been remotely controlled for decades (as opposed to specially designed UAVs), but I'd say that reliable flight in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) was a bigger revolution.
    This is merely a small stepping stone to remote flight that's reliable enough for regular public transport. It's not a fucking revolution. But
  • by fnj (64210) on Sunday June 30, 2013 @09:58AM (#44147379)

    Captain Obvious is annoyed that you woke him up to tell him the blindingly obvious news that pilots are going the way of the buggy whip - just like automobile drivers and ditch diggers.

    Captain Obvious also has some further thoughts for you. It's not just the pilots who are going away. Why should business travelers and even the general public want to fly about from place to place when there are cell phones? Hmmm? Already you can see as well as hear anybody anywhere in the world with a reasonably recent cell phone. Do you really think they won't be adding touch, taste, and smell via direct nerve stimulation? Why do you have to waste time and limited and expensive energy to go see your mother or go on a date? This way you won't catch a cold from your mother sneezing, and you can have a date with anybody, be adventurous, you can't get herpes or worse. Travel accidents, illnesses, and threatening confrontations are so old fashioned.

    In fact, why get out of bed at all? Most jobs are obsolete anyway, and I wouldn't be so sure that IT and corporate officer jobs can't be automated too. Your robotic equipment can keep you nourished in bed and stimulate your nerves to keep your muscles toned and inject medicaments to keep clots from forming.

    Why go to the trouble of seeking new experiences or exploring in the flesh? Robotic explorers make ever so much more sense. You can always catch the omni-sense documentary of the exploration.

  • A big pile of stink now begins. It is now impossible to disambiguate a "drone" from other aircrafts.

    This may represent a new realization of risk for the paranoid.

  • This is a cool demo and all, but I find it highly unlikely any travelers will ever set foot on a plane where the pilot isn't also on-board. Simply put; radio tech is not perfect and in the event of a systems failure of some description you need a decision-making human being to make the final decision about a resolution. There's also the point of "accepted risk", where the pilot has just as much "skin in the game" as you do as a traveler.

    The worst flight I have ever been on was one where the pilot made a pre

  • Get ready for the pilot's union to throw a fit and get in the way of progress and efficiency and customer interest with pilotless flights. Hurray for unions!

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