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‘This Plane Flies Itself. We Went for a Ride’

Xwing envisions a fleet of retrofitted Cessna cargo planes flying without a human onboard, performing automated takeoffs and landing while being controlled by pilots on the ground (who might even be juggling a few aircraft at a time). They’ve logged “dozens” of hours of flight time — though because of FAA guidelines the future “ground” pilot has always been esconced on-board the plane. Long-time Slashdot reader PuceBaboon shares this report from Wired (alternate URL here):

The conditions are not ideal for our landing. A hard wind is blowing over the low hills east of San Francisco, and at just the wrong angle — straight across the runway where we’re set to touch down. But as we ease into our final approach, our two-winged shadow clipping the suburban homes below, the veteran pilot sitting beside me makes a gentle suggestion. “I like to do it hands up. Like a roller coaster,” he says.

He removes his hands from the wheel of our aircraft, a 27-year-old Cessna Caravan that once shuttled United Nations dignitaries in southern Africa. It’s nothing especially fancy, with aspects that feel more go-kart than airliner. The cockpit is filled with manual toggles and analog dials; pulleys connect the pedal directly to the rudder at the tail. But recently, this plane underwent some modifications. As we descend past 500 feet, the 15-knot gusts hitting our side and the pilot’s hands still hovering, the wheel and pedals begin to jostle, compensating for the wind with inhuman precision. The descent remains smooth — serene, even, as we touch down.

“It will be very uneventful, almost boring,” Maxime Gariel, the chief technology officer of Xwing, had assured me shortly before our fully autonomous takeoff, flight, and landing. “That’s what we’re aiming for.”


Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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