Want to take a flight without a pilot? Here’s your chance

The future will see an increased use of automated aircraft – that requires little or no human intervention – to perform a wide range of military and civilian tasks, according to experts from American defense giant Lockheed Martin.

At the defence exhibition Idex 2017, Lockheed Martin displayed one of its autonomous aircraft – the KMAX – a helicopter that can autonomously deliver loads of between 4,000 and 6,000 pounds at ranges of over 1,800 kilometers. Aside from programming a flight plan – which can be changed on the fly if necessary – the aircraft doesn’t require any human input to carry out its mission.

The KMAX has already flown dozens of re-supply missions in combat, often over rough terrain in areas hotly contested with enemy forces.

In roughly 2010 as we needed capabilities to deliver supplies to remote areas in Afghanistan, the military asked for urgent technology development that would allow us to deliver large payload, without having to use a manned helicopter and put pilots at risk,

said Jim Murdoch, International Business Development Director, Ship and Aircraft Systems at Lockheed Martin.

Essentially, we supplemented and replaced the pilot with autonomous technology.

It’s more than just an autopilot where you tell the aircraft where to go,” he added. “It’s actually a system that operates the helicopter, take advantages of its dual-rotor technology and heavy lift capability, and uses autonomy to guide the helicopter to the objective area.

The KMAX, Murdoch noted, comes with pre-set responses to problems, such as in-flight malfunctions.

We got the technology to a point where it could safely hover in a pretty rough area, where there were trees, rough terrain, and reliably drop the cargo without damaging it and execute a return to home base,

Murdoch added.

Such technology has many potential uses, according to Murdoch.

(We could) use this to carry a payload of water or firefighting chemicals over a remote forest area where it would be hazardous to get a pilot in there, or to deliver humanitarian supplies to an area of conflict where I really don’t want to have manned aircraft

, he said.

Looking to the future, Murdoch said that autonomous aircraft will become increasingly important – especially for small nations such as the UAE.

These are worldwide trends, and are particularly interesting in the Middle East, he said. The UAE, particularly, I think, strikes me as a very innovative country.it’s an example of innovative thought.

If you want to do more as a small country, one of the things that you have to master is how one can operate a ship or an aviation system with fewer people,” he added. “You need to rely on more automation and innovation.when you don’t have a large military force to begin with, these things become very important. They’re interesting for the United States, but I’m sure they’re fascinating to the emirates.