Science and its wonders are truly amazing. What was considered impossible before was made possible by Wright Brothers; such is the way in which science works. Always evolving and explaining phenomena and providing us with working models, theories and laws. In today’s age, the technological advancements are setting new records. From 3D printed fingers to wearable tech; one may find wonders of science everywhere. Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment or better known as Astraea apparently thought unmanned drones were not enough and they needed to bring something more to the table. What did they do? In a one liner; they did something remarkably bold and gutsy. Going into details; they have managed to fly a jet stream aircraft across UK airspace, which is shared, during the last month. Wait a second, what’s so bold and gutsy about that? The answer; the particular flight was unmanned!
Only the take-off and landing was performed by an on-board pilot. Take-off occurred from Warton, near Preston in Lancashire and landing was executed at Inverness. However, the 500 mile long journey was controlled by a pilot on ground who was being assisted by National Air Traffic Services. There were no passengers. However, the airspace in which this unmanned aircraft flew was shared by passenger carrying aircrafts. The 16-seater aircraft is known as ‘The Flying Test bed’ and has been equipped with a series of sensors and robotics to prevent any hazard from taking place. The unmanned air vehicle (UAV) expert, Andrew Chapman, from National Air Traffic Service (NATS) said; ‘NATS ensured that this test flight was held without any impact on the safety of other users of airspace at the time. Although there is still work to be done, it would seem that on the basis of the success of this flight, a UAV could operate in different classes of airspace.’ The flight is not the first of its kind. Astraea has orchestrated a series of such flights and has already received Â£62 million in the form of funding to research how UAV can be used in shared airspace by UK government and commercial airlines. A representative from BAE Systems (one of the stakeholder companies) said; ‘The flights were part of a series of tests helping flight regulators and NATS to understand how these flights work, and what they need to do were they to go ahead and put a regulatory framework in place for the unmanned flights in manned airspace. It’s still very early days in terms of that regulation taking place.’ Michael Fallon, Business and Energy Minister, has labeled these flights as ‘Pioneering’ and said; ‘Astraea has made significant achievements, placing the UK industry in a good position globally on unmanned aircraft and the development of regulations for their civil use.’
Astraea project director Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal is worried about more than just technological challenge as he was quoted saying; ‘It’s not just the technology, we’re trying to think about the social impact of this and the ethical and legal things associated with it. You’ve got to solve all this lot, if you’re going to make it happen, enable it to happen affordably.’