Real pilots? Please. The US Army’s so intent on cutting costs that they’ve developed a system that lets helicopters fly themselves. Would I ever get in one? Hell to the no.
The system (following with the US Army’s love of shoehorning acronyms together) is called RASCAL – Rotorcraft Aircrew Systems Concept Airborne Laboratory. Basically, it’s a UH-60 Blackhawk (yes, of Black Hawk Down fame), with very accurate terrain-mapping software and a “risk minimising algorithm” that calculates the best route through the terrain.
All this has enabled the robotic Blackhawk to make a successful test flight with no-one at the helm (though there were a few very brave test pilots on board). It flew through 23 miles of rugged (read: mountainous Mars lookalike) terrain, keeping an altitude of around 100 to 200 metres throughout. At the end of its flight, it selected a safe landing spot and came to a hover over top of it (apparently, it’s not quite capable of doing landings yet — some way to go to get that pilot’s license I guess).
Given the amount of money spent training pilots and keeping them trained by armies round the world, this is definitely a step in the right direction — not to mention most low-level crashes are caused by pilot error. Still, the chances of me getting in a heli with no pilot anytime soon are remote, to say the least. Let’s get driverless cars done first, then maybe we can talk unmanned flying death-traps. [The Register]