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Reliable Robotics flies Cessna 208 cargo aircraft without any crew on board

By Skies Magazine | December 8, 2023

Estimated reading time 5 minutes, 20 seconds.

Reliable Robotics’ Cessna 208 Caravan equipped with the company’s autonomous flight system. Reliable Robotics Photo

Reliable Robotics, which specializes in aircraft automation systems, has successfully completed the first-ever uncrewed flight of a Cessna 208B Caravan, marking a significant milestone in a potential new era in air cargo delivery.  

The flight, which took place on Nov. 21 just outside of San Jose, Calif., saw a Cessna Caravan take to the skies with no one on board, controlled remotely by a pilot stationed 50 miles away at Reliable Robotics’ control centre.

The Caravan was equipped with Reliable’s autonomous flight system, which not only enables remote operation but also “improves safety by fully automating the aircraft through all phases of operation — including taxi, takeoff, and landing,” the company said.

The autonomous flight system, designed to be aircraft-agnostic, utilizes advanced navigation technology and “multiple layers of redundancy,” ensuring the integrity and reliability necessary for uncrewed flight. Notably, the system addresses critical safety concerns such as controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) and loss of control in flight (LOC-I), which are major contributors to fatal aviation accidents.

Reliable Robotics collaborated with the Cessna Caravan’s manufacturer, Textron Aviation Inc., to make the uncrewed flight a reality.

Chris Hearne, Textron’s senior VP of engineering and programs, said the company is “committed to delivering continuous aviation improvements and our relationship with Reliable Robotics advances this work. Reliable’s successful flight of an uncrewed Cessna 208 Caravan represents a milestone for the industry in bringing new technology to aviation.”

According to Reliable Robotics, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) formally accepted the certification plan for the company’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,” Reliable said.  

The view from the cockpit of the uncrewed Cessna Caravan in flight. Reliable Robotics Photo

Several aviation organizations around the world have expressed interest in the company’s aircraft automation expertise, including ASL Aviation Holdings, which is a global aviation services company with airlines based in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. ASL, which operates a fleet of over 160 aircraft and provides cargo services for express parcel integrators and eCommerce platforms, has been working with Reliable Robotics since 2022 “to explore bringing advanced aircraft automation into its operations,” Reliable said.

“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,” said Dave Andrew, CEO of ASL Aviation Holdings. “This historic flight is a testament to Reliable’s focused leadership in advancing aviation innovation and capability for the industry.”

Moreover, Reliable Robotics has been working under a series of contracts with the U.S. Air Force since 2021 to explore the application of this technology on large multi-engine aircraft for various missions, including cargo logistics and aerial refueling.

“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,” said Col Elliott Leigh, AFWERX Director and Chief Commercialization Officer for the Department of the Air Force.

For a 360-degree experience inside the cockpit of the Caravan during the historic flight, click here.

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