AFRL’s ‘ROBOpilot’ Returns to Flight After Mishap

 In U.S. Air Force, Industry, Acquisition, & Innovation, Defense, Air, Forces & Capabilities

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s robot­ic pilot has returned to the sky, fol­low­ing a mishap that ground­ed the system last year.

The AFRL Center for Rapid Innovation and DZYNE Technologies Incorporated’s ROBOPilot flew for about 2.2 hours on Sept. 24 at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. The ROBOPilot system is added to the cock­pit of a reg­u­lar plane, with the system grab­bing the yoke, flip­ping switch­es, and push­ing rud­ders and brakes like a human pilot while also using sen­sors such as GPS and an Inertial Measurement Unit for sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness.

The system first flew in August 2019 on a Cessna 206, and in a later flight was dam­aged in a rough land­ing. A Safety Investigation Board con­vened to look at the inci­dent, brief­ing AFRL and DZYNE who then “ana­lyzed the find­ings and incor­po­rat­ed the rec­om­men­da­tions to ensure the suc­cess of the latest test,” said Marc Owens, the AFRL Center for Rapid Innovation’s pro­gram man­ag­er for ROBOpilot, in a release. “We deter­mined the cause of the mishap, iden­ti­fied the best course of cor­rec­tive action, and we’re very pleased [to] be flight test­ing again.”

The Air Force Research Laboratory Center for Rapid Innovation and DZYNE Technologies Incorporated resumed flight testing of the ROBOpilot unmanned air platform and completed a successful fourth flight test on Sept. 24, 2020, at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, during which ROBOPilot flew for approximately 2.2 hours, completing all test objectives. Photo: Air Force/courtesy

Crews rebuilt the ROBOpilot for anoth­er Cessna 206, and had to meet the same ini­tial test points to be able to con­duct the suc­ces­sive test.

“ROBOpilot is too good an idea to let the mishap derail the devel­op­ment of the tech­nol­o­gy,” Owens said.

AFRL has said the system is a low-cost alternative to developing all-new unmanned aircraft. It is installed by remov­ing a pilot’s seat, and using com­mer­cial­ly pro­duced com­po­nents. ROBOpilot is cur­rent­ly devel­oped for gen­er­al avi­a­tion air­craft, and the ser­vice has not iden­ti­fied spe­cif­ic USAF air­frames that could be tar­get­ed for its use though it could be used for cargo planes, in turn free­ing up pilots for other mis­sions.

 “ROBOpilot offers the ben­e­fits of unmanned oper­a­tions with­out the com­plex­i­ty and upfront cost asso­ci­at­ed with the devel­op­ment of new unmanned vehi­cles,” Alok Das, a senior sci­en­tist with AFRL’s Center for Rapid Innovation, said in a 2019 release.

Air Force Magazine source|articles

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