Video: The Pilotless GA Airplane of the Future

It's eerie seeing what appears to be a run-of-the mill general aviation airplane starting its engines by itself and taxiing out to the active runway before taking off with nary a human onboard. UAVs are nothing new, of course, and futurologists tell us self-driving cars will be in dealer showrooms before we know it, but we might just be glimpsing a different kind of future in a video of recent flight trials of the "optionally piloted" Centaur from Aurora Flight Sciences in Manassas, Virginia.

The Centaur project takes the military surveillance version of a Diamond DA42 piston twin and adds robotic hardware to the cockpit that allows the airplane to be converted from a regular cockpit into a remotely piloted aircraft. Centaur is envisioned as a spyplane that can be flown by a pilot through controlled airspace and then deployed as a UAV in remote locations without drawing undue attention to itself.

Aurora Flight Sciences recently began Centaur flight testing at the UAS test site in Rome, New York. The company said international interest in the remotely piloted airplane has been growing steadily ever since flight trials began last year.

One could imagine a version of Centaur outfitted with similar gear that would allow travelers to fly from one city to the next without the need for a human pilot physically onboard. If the technology can be refined further, such GA aircraft could become a fixture at airports in the future as people seek the flexibility of general aviation air travel without having to spend the time or money to do the hands-on flying themselves or hire a pilot.

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