Passenger aircraft flown 500 miles by ground control

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Engineers believe they are writing a new chapter in aviation history with the first successful flight of an unmanned aircraft in all UK aerospace.

In April 2013, a BAE Systems Jetstream research aircraft adapted to fly unmanned completed a 500 mile trip from Warton, Lancashire to Inverness, Scotland under the command of a ground based pilot and control of NATS (National Air Traffic Control Services) air traffic controllers.

According to the defence contractor, the flight was part of a series of flight trials designed to prove the technology needed to allow the safe and routine flying of unmanned aircraft in UK airspace being conducted under the £62m Industry led ASTRAEA (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation & Assessment) programme.

The work of the ASTRAEA programme focuses on the technologies, systems, facilities, procedures and regulations that will allow autonomous vehicles to operate safely and routinely in UK  airspace.

Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal from BAE Systems and programme director for ASTRAEA said, ‘The work being done here today and hopefully continued into the next phase of the ASTRAEA programme, will likely impact all of us in the next five, ten, 20 years as unmanned aircraft and associated technology develop and become a part of everyday life.

‘These latest trials help prove the technology we need to routinely operate unmanned aircraft in our airspace and also help the regulators develop the framework in which the aircraft can operate in.

‘Simply put, I believe we are writing a new chapter in aviation history.’

Andrew Chapman, NATS’ UAV expert, 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.’