Advances For New Flight Technologies

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rX-1EA: Xinhua

rX-1EA: Xinhua

Electric powerplants and autonomous systems continue to make progress, with reports this week of first flights and new designs. In China, the two-seat RX1E-A, an advanced version of the RX1E, designed by Shenyang Aerospace University, flew for the first time this week and proved it can now fly for up to two hours on a single charge, an improvement over the 45-minute endurance of the previous model, which has been in production since last year. The new version of the airplane also has a new parachute. Zou Haining, an official at the Liaoning General Aviation Academy, told Xinhua the extended endurance of the airplane should boost sales in the U.S. and Europe. Also this week in China, it was reported that the AT-200, an autonomous cargo plane with a payload of about 1.5 tons, completed its first test flight.

The AT-200 took off from Neifu Airport in Pucheng on Oct. 26, flew for 26 minutes and landed, all autonomously. The drone, which is based on a P750XL Pacific Aerospace utility aircraft, is being developed by, a Chinese e-commerce retailer, working with a consortium of research institutes and other companies. They intend to use the drone to deliver packages to customers in rural areas. In the U.S. this week, Aurora Flight Sciences received an FAA Special Airworthiness Certificate for its optionally piloted Bell Helicopter UH-1H, to be used as a military research aircraft. The FAA certificate permits optionally piloted aircraft operations, with a safety pilot to monitor the controls. Aurora also announced this week they will be working with NASA to develop a turboelectric aircraft concept. The subsonic commercial aircraft will have conventional underwing gas-turbine engines, plus a ducted, boundary-layer-ingesting tailcone propulsor driven by a turboelectric propulsion system, Aurora said.

AT-200: Xinhua

AT-200: Xinhua

Comments (11)

The AT-200 can probably be controlled by nefarious people with a few low cost SDR's (changing it from a cargo drone into a killing drone). I'm not too ready for such "advances" to start showing up in our airspace system. No pilot, no positive control.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | November 2, 2017 7:07 PM    Report this comment

"No pilot, no positive control."
You might want to revisit some "positive control" events that occurred on September 11, 2001.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | November 3, 2017 6:26 AM    Report this comment

Tom, You made my point.
There were no pilots involved on 9/11/2001; bad people with bad intent took control of an aircraft.
The difference with this "advancement" is that bad people don't have to go through security (or even have to die) to put an aircraft through a building. Making such events far easier with no security and with no personal investment might be something that we need to be aware of. A sky full of easily hacked heavy aircraft could be 911 times a hundred.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | November 3, 2017 7:21 AM    Report this comment

Most definitely there were pilots involved in all four crashes on 9-11 - they simply weren't the ones who were on the airlines' payrolls.
A properly-designed autonomous aircraft control system has no provision for ANYONE on the ground to take control of the vehicle, under any circumstance.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | November 3, 2017 8:17 AM    Report this comment

"....has no provision for ANYONE on the ground to take control of the vehicle, under any circumstance."

And THAT is the Achilles heel when someone spoofs GPS and/or ADS-B.
No one on board OR on the ground is there to adapt to that situation.
The plane being "autonomous" blindly follows external signals.
Since ADS-B is both unencrypted and unauthenticated, a bad person could broadcast "traffic" with nothing more than a laptop and thus steer the autonomous vehicle based on it's internal algorithm to tenaciously avoid other planes.

The "properly designed" system for safety in the airspace system actually makes it child's play to re-direct. This has already been done years ago to bring down military drones. That's why I recommend a pilot always being on board a heavy plane (turn off the equipment and take over).

Just saying that heavy planes need backup systems and that redundant electronics are not really redundant.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | November 3, 2017 9:21 AM    Report this comment

Redundancy is not a design objective. It is a methodology. Reliability is a design objective, and redundancy is just one method of building reliability.
Any properly-designed control system utilizes multiple DIFFERENT sensor systems to acquire/derive awareness. The same is true of human beings who are acting as a control system. Whether man or machine, a control system's awareness is only as good as the information that it receives from various sensors and other sources.
Humans acting in real time are the weakest component of a good control system. The best protection against human failure/interference is to proscribe it by design.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | November 3, 2017 9:36 AM    Report this comment

The more rigid the methodology, the more susceptible it is to guerrilla style warfare.
Ever watch https www ?

Posted by: Mark Fraser | November 3, 2017 11:10 AM    Report this comment

It is nice to see the flight time increase, but there is never any mention of the airspeed. Do you really want to fly at stall speed just to boast about how long one can fly on electric? The solution for ground EV's is a charging system. The need for charging system while in flight is needed even more. Electric flight of any kind will always be dead in the water as long as bureaucrats can shoot them down.

Posted by: Don Lineback | November 6, 2017 6:52 AM    Report this comment

I made time to watch the linked presentation. By its author's own statement, the presentation was about some of the many pitfalls of ADS-B - not about autonomous aircraft control systems.
Above, you said "The plane being 'autonomous' blindly follows external signals." My point is that - in a properly-designed aircraft-control system - that most definitely is not true.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | November 6, 2017 12:52 PM    Report this comment

To me, the problem is mainly if something starts to go wrong with a complex computer-controlled system, the best way to stop it is to do a great reset -- you can't do that in the air, can you?!

I am a professional driver of heavy vehicles, where at least 25 computer systems are involved, and occasionally they refuse to cooperate in a proper way, so eventually, you have to stop, turn off the power, and wait a while and then do a hard reset.

Usually, everything then works as they are supposed to. Or you'll call for a tow truck!

You can't do that in any aircraft, can you?

Without a pilot on board, the problem will be much bigger, as a runaway situation will definitely be out of control, and who will pay the damages incurred on the ground? The aircraft manufacturer, or the user?!

Posted by: Tord Eriksson | November 18, 2017 2:18 AM    Report this comment

Recently a driver-less bus was tested in LA -- it took just 2 hours till it had a minor mishap, when a truck reversed into it, and as there was no driver onboard telling it to honk the horn, or taking evasive action, like reversing, it didn't know what to do, so it just stopped and got run into.

Will these pilot-less aircraft in a hopefully controlled airspace know what to do when something enters the airspace that does not quite follow the rules, like a flock of birds, an incapacitated pilot or something else, like a drone out of control?

I doubt it very much,

Posted by: Tord Eriksson | November 18, 2017 2:31 AM    Report this comment

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