November's successful flight of an unmanned Cessna 208B Caravan was an aviation first for Reliable Robotics. A remote pilot supervised the uncrewed cargo aircraft from the control centre 50 miles away.
The Reliable autonomous flight system enables the aircraft to be remotely operated by a pilot on the ground and improves safety by fully automating the aircraft through all phases of operation, from taxi and take off to landing. The system is aircraft agnostic and utilises multiple layers of redundancy and advanced navigation technology to achieve the levels of integrity and reliability necessary for uncrewed flight. The system will prevent controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) and loss of control in flight (LOC-I), which account for the majority of fatal aviation accidents.
The Textron Caravan, and other regional cargo aircraft like it, serve an essential role connecting communities and businesses around the world. With a useful load of over 3,000 pounds and a take off performance to operate from shorter runways, these aircraft deliver time-sensitive shipments to many places that would otherwise not have next-day or same-day service. Remote piloting will allow even more areas to benefit from this critical service.
Since 2022, Reliable has been working with ASL Aviation to explore bringing advanced aircraft automation into its operations. ASL operates a fleet of over 160 aircraft and provides cargo services for the world's leading express parcel integrators and eCommerce platforms. Reliable Robotics is an original member of ASL's CargoVision forum of companies involved in pioneering new aviation and propulsion technologies.
"ASL is always innovating to better serve customers, and our partnership with Reliable Robotics is aimed at enabling us to provide reliable, flexible and cost-efficient time-sensitive cargo delivery to smaller unserved areas," says chief executive Dave Andrew. "This historic flight is a testament to Reliable's focused leadership in advancing aviation innovation and capability for the industry."
Reliable Robotics and the US Air Force are to jointly examine how this commercially derived technology can be applied to large multi-engine aircraft for cargo logistics, aerial refueling and other missions. Reliable has been working under a series of contracts with the Air Force since 2021.
"This monumental aviation achievement is a great example of how AFWERX accelerates agile and affordable capability transitions for the world's greatest Air Force," says Col Elliott Leigh, AFWERX director and chief commercialisation officer for the Department of the Air Force. "This milestone accelerates dual-use uncrewed flight opportunities, increasing aviation safety and enabling us to bring a broad range of autonomous military capabilities into denied environments."
The FAA formally accepted the certification plan for Reliable's autonomous flight system in June 2023. The certification plan leverages existing regulations for normal and transport category aircraft and does not require any special conditions or exemptions.