DARPA’s New Autopilot Could Change Flight Forever

A new autopilot system could remove most pilots from military aircraft and allow them to control entire squadrons.

darpa, air force, autopilot, UAV, UUV, Military aircraft might be on their way to a more automated future as the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) seeks to replace human pilots with a complex and competent autopilot system.

Named the Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS), the new DARPA project’s goal isn’t to completely supplant human pilots, but to dramatically reduce the crew required for each plane to a single operator. Partially a product of slashed military budgets and the need to consistently advance tactics, the US Department of Defense sees this system as critical to commanding a strong, versatile air force.

Envisioned as a removable kit that could be integrated into any craft, the ALIAS system would help a lone pilot deal with in-flight system failures, conduct maneuvers and increase flight safety. In addition to those duties the new autopilot would also be built to complete all flight and fight functions, leaving a craft’s pilot to make mission-level command decisions while controlling the craft from a touchscreen interface.

“Our goal is to design and develop a full-time automated assistant that could be rapidly adapted to help operate diverse aircraft through an easy-to-use operator interface,” said Daniel Patt, DARPA program manager. “These capabilities could help transform the role of pilot from a systems operator to a mission supervisor directing intermeshed, trusted, reliable systems at a high level.”

While the ALIAS system could extend a pilots control well beyond a single aircraft, possibly commanding entire squadrons of planes and drones, the technology required to create a reliable and functional system of that caliber is still a ways away.  In fact, DARPA’s press release mentions they’ll be holding a “proposer’s day” on May 14th of this year to air ideas on how to create this system.

More likely than not a reliable ALIAS system is still a generation a way. However, a mature ALIAS-like autopilot could be a game changer in the military world, extending the reach of a single soldier to multiple airborne units. If built properly, ALIAS could also be flexible enough to accommodate the needs of ground troops backed by robots or sailors commanding UUVs.

Image Courtesy of DARPA