Autonomous flight performed by a Cessna Caravan

A converted Cessna C208B Grand Caravan from Californian startup Xwing has completed a test flight on its own. The project could be the first step on the road to transforming regional freight transport. Xwing’s autonomous system can control the aircraft from standstill to standstill, meaning in theory there is no need for direct human intervention once the engine is fired up.

The San Francisco-based company recently released details of its second test flight in February, which took place around Concord Airport in California, Flightglobal reported. Although a safety pilot was in the cockpit of the modified aircraft, his intervention was not required and the remote monitoring crew communicated with air traffic control, for example.

Marc Piette, Director of Xwing, said that over the past year, a number of improvements have been made to the Autoflight system, integrating taxiing, take-off and landing control functions, so that the aircraft can now manoeuvre on the ground and avoid obstacles.

The operations controlled by the system can be monitored from a control centre at all times, via a redundant data link, which can currently be interrupted by the safety pilot. For the time being, Xwing’s developments seem to be well received by investors, with the company’s value estimated at $400 million after its latest fundraising campaign. However, systems similar to Autoflight are being developed by a number of companies, including industry giants Airbus and Boeing, for various types of aircraft.

The advantage of the Californian company could be its flexibility, as the concept is that the system can be fitted to any type of aircraft used in the regional freight market and used for flights up to 805 kilometres. The main obstacles are the lack of legislation, obtaining regulatory approvals and increasing public acceptance of the technology.

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