> our title:

BAE Prepares to Test Long-Endurance Drone

> original title:

Pilotless Planes Project Begins Test Flights Over Irish Sea (excerpt)

(Source: The Guardian; published May 7, 2012)

BAE Systems has taken a step closer to removing pilots from fighter jets by launching the first major test flights for a new generation of intelligent drone aircraft.

The defence group is assessing software for unmanned aircraft that will operate with an unprecedented level of independence. Defence experts believe pilotless planes are the next progression from manned fighters such as the Typhoon jet, made by BAE.

The project, named Astraea, differs from the current drone models in use in Afghanistan, which are flown remotely by pilots on the ground. Instead the prototypes will follow a set of programmed instructions, with the aim that they could fly difficult missions autonomously for days at a time.

BAE is using a conventional aircraft – an 18-seater Jetstream propeller plane – for the flights over the Irish Sea and will have technicians on board. The Jetstream will fly autonomously during some tests but there will be a pilot at the controls at all times, ready to take over if there is a problem.

The tests will include a collision avoidance trial, using a light aircraft that will gauge the plane's ability to dodge potential hazards. A BAE spokesperson said: "This will demonstrate to regulators such as the Civil Aviation Authority and air traffic control service providers the progress made towards achieving safe routine use of UAVs [unmanned air vehicle] in UK airspace."

The test flights started at the beginning of the month and will run until September, and are taking place in controlled airspace. The Astraea programme is run by a consortium whose members include BAE and other UK companies such as Cobham, Qinetiq and Rolls-Royce. Thales, the French defence and security group, is also a member. (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full story, on The Guardian website.