In April of this year, a BAE Systems Jetstream research aircraft flew from Preston in Lancashire, England, to Inverness, Scotland and back. This 500-mile (805 km) journey wouldn't be worth noting if it weren't for the small detail that its pilot was not on board, but sitting on the ground in Warton, Lancashire and that the plane did most of the flying itself. Even this alteration of a standard commercial prop plane into an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) seems a back page item until you realize that this may herald the biggest revolution in civil aviation since Wilbur Wright won the coin toss at Kitty Hawk in 1903.
April 4, 2007 The networked battlespace of the not-too-distant future is beginning to look very much like a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic box office thriller, “The Birds” with hordes of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) combining to overwhelming effect. QinetiQ and the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) last week demonstrated a new system which provides a single pilot with the ability to fly their own military fast jet while simultaneously directing up to four further unmanned aircraft. The system gives unmanned aircraft an advanced level of autonomously - independent decision-making including self-organisation, communication, sensing the environment, identifying possible enemies, and targeting of weapons with the final decision to shoot retained by the human pilot. The technology developed for these trials is feeding the Taranis combat UAV and ASTRAEA projects, the latter exploring the use of UAVs for non-military applications. The ability to direct multiple UAVs could be useful for search and rescue, disaster relief operations and environmental monitoring, just for a start.