Pilotless Airplanes? Rockwell Collins and the UI Push Forward

Oct 10, 2014

Would you fly in a plane without a pilot? How comfortable would you be with a plane remote-controlled from the ground?

These are the questions that Tom Schnell considers as the director of the Operator Performance Laboratory. An engineering professor at the University of Iowa, he’s been working with Rockwell Collins this past year to develop and test avionics systems for unmanned flights.

“In large air transport aircraft, you would have a captain on the left side and a first officer on the right side, both of them can reach into the flight management system to fly the aircraft and make it do certain things on the autopilot. We now have these roles split between the pilot in the air and the pilot in the ground”.

Testing the aircraft, Schnell would manually operate the flight for takeoff and landing. But en route, a pilot on the ground tpok control. He says takeoff and landing can also be automated, but the process is expensive and takes more time, so it may be the next step.

And though he says completely pilotless passenger planes are not in the immediate future, the tests are an early step toward pilotless aircraft flying through US airspace.