Fascinating video here of the repeated landings of the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (“UCAS”) at sea trials with the USS George H.W. Bush:
An interesting question has arisen from this success – could the technology used here be applied to commercial flight?
Says a recent article by Amy Butler in Aviation Week and Space Technology:
Unmanned technology advocates say autonomous landing systems such as that used for the X-47B could be retrofitted onto other manned aircraft, reducing the cost of hours of training for pilots, while increasing safety.
Beyond carrier aviation, unmanned technology advocates also posit that such a system could be used for commercial applications. The end result could be a more efficient air traffic system that allows for reduced distances in safe separation among aircraft on approach. And, it could permit more efficient stacking of commercial airlines as they await landing clearances. Obviously such an application would require further testing and a significant turnabout in civil aviation policy globally.
It is a curious thing that people meet their doctor (and even get a second opinion) before surgery, yet never really bother to meet or even see their pilot and flight crew before a commercial flight. So, should passengers really feel uncomfortable if a landing is totally automated? A (understandable) example of mind over matter.