Airbus’ self-flying plane just completed successful taxi, take-off, and landing tests, opening the door for fully autonomous flight

Airbus A350 Autonomous taxi, takeoff, and landing
Airbus A350 Autonomous taxi, takeoff, and landing

Airbus

  • Airbus just completed its Autonomous Taxi, Take-Off, and Landing project that saw one of its jets perform normally pilot-flown maneuvers entirely on its own.

  • The A350-1000 XWB acted as the testbed for the project in its role as Airbus’ flagship, with onboard cameras assisting the new technology.

  • The project’s successful completion opens the door for fully autonomous flights as autopilot already handles most of the functions while airborne. 

  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The common belief with airplanes is that they fly themselves after take-off thanks to autopilot, and pilots can sit back and relax for most of the flight. But Airbus just took that idea to the next level after proving a passenger jet can perform complex maneuvers without any pilot input.

The European manufacturer just completed flight testing for its Autonomous Taxi, Take-off, and Landing project in June after its flagship aircraft successfully navigated each phase of flight on its own as pilots simply watched.

Over 500 flights were conducted with the new Airbus A350-1000 XWB that successfully utilized “image recognition technology” to essentially give the plane a pair of eyes. The technology, integrated with the A350’s exterior cameras, allowed it to perform the phases of flight entirely on its own, Airbus announced.

The first milestone of the flight testing campaign occurred in December when Airbus was able to successfully demonstrate autonomous take-offs from Toulouse-Blagnac Airport in France. All pilots had to do in the first test was line up the plane with the runway and then sit back and watch as the plane barreled down the runway, lifting off on its own.

With Airbus proving that its jet can also land and taxi on its own, the door is now open to fully autonomous flights.

Take a look at how Airbus was able to do it.

Airbus began the autonomous flight testing program – known as the Autonomous Taxi, Take-off, and Landing project or ATTOL – in 2018.

An Airbus A350-1000 XWB aircraft.
An Airbus A350-1000 XWB aircraft.

Business Insider/Benjamin Zhang

Source: Airbus

One of its newest jets, the Airbus A350-1000 XWB, was chosen to be the testbed for the project thanks to the advanced technological features of the aircraft.

An Airbus A350 XWB aircraft.
An Airbus A350 XWB aircraft.

REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

Read More: Airbus recently delivered the 350th A350 plane, its answer to Boeing’s revolutionary 787 Dreamliner. Here’s how the new aircraft is reshaping air travel.

The program would rely heavily on the A350’s onboard cameras used by pilots to help guide the plane while on the ground, providing viewpoints from the tail and landing gear.

An Airbus A350 XWB cockpit.
An Airbus A350 XWB cockpit.

Alex Davies / Business Insider

Even passengers can access them for a unique view of take-off and landings, a reprieve from the standard onboard programming of TV shows and movies.

The exterior camera viewed from inside an Airbus A350 XWB.
The exterior camera viewed from inside an Airbus A350 XWB.

Business Insider/David Ibekwe

Airbus integrated the camera system with the new tech to give the plane eyes, essentially, and allow it to see the runway and taxiways.

An Airbus A350-1000 XWB cockpit.
An Airbus A350-1000 XWB cockpit.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The first success autonomous test occurred in December with an automatic take-off performed using the new technology.

An Airbus A350-1000 XWB aircraft.
An Airbus A350-1000 XWB aircraft.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Read More: Pilots sat back and watched a plane take off entirely on its own as Airbus gets one step closer to fully self-flying aircraft

Pilots just had to line the plane up and then the jet took over, navigating independently as it accelerated down the runway and lifting off at the appropriate time.

An Airbus A350 XWB aircraft.
An Airbus A350 XWB aircraft.

Reuters

Any number of factors – including wind – can knock a plane off-course during take-off and the pilot has to correct the plane’s heading when it does. But that wasn’t the case here as the airplane did all the work.

An Airbus A350-1000 XWB aircraft.
An Airbus A350-1000 XWB aircraft.

Reuters

Here’s the view from the cockpit with the captain’s hand only hovering over the controls and not providing any input.

An Airbus A350-1000 XWB cockpit during the first successful autonomous take-off test.
An Airbus A350-1000 XWB cockpit during the first successful autonomous take-off test.

Airbus

Once take-offs were nailed down, it will time to teach the jet how to land on its own.

An Airbus A350-1000 XWB aircraft.
An Airbus A350-1000 XWB aircraft.

Airbus

Nearly all passenger jets can land with a high degree of automation thanks to GPS and radio signals providing information but these autonomous trials would have the airplane do all the work, independent of existing infrastructure.

A Fiji Airways Airbus A350-900 XWB aircraft.
A Fiji Airways Airbus A350-900 XWB aircraft.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Source: Airbus

A total of 30 landings were achieved autonomously across six flights, with Airbus declaring victory on the program after performing over 500 flights to collect data and demonstrate the viability of the technology.

An Airbus A350 XWB cockpit.
An Airbus A350 XWB cockpit.

Reuters

Source: Airbus

Airbus has also successfully completed autonomous taxi tests, a difficult task as taxiways are less easily identified than runways and taxing has always been a responsibility of the pilots due to the complexity of the test, even of the ground.

An Airbus A350-1000 XWB aircraft.
An Airbus A350-1000 XWB aircraft.

Fasttailwind/Shutterstock.com

Source: Airbus

The new technology could revolutionize how airlines operate their planes, especially as the A350 is growing in popularity and is in the fleets of countless airlines such as Fiji Airways…

A Fiji Airways Airbus A350-900 XWB.
A Fiji Airways Airbus A350-900 XWB.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Virgin Atlantic Airways…

A Virgin Atlantic Airways Airbus A350-1000 XWB.
A Virgin Atlantic Airways Airbus A350-1000 XWB.

Nicolas Economou/Getty Images

British Airways…

A British Airways Airbus A350-1000 XWB.
A British Airways Airbus A350-1000 XWB.

George Pimentel/Getty

Cathay Pacific…

A Cathay Pacific Airbus A350-900 XWB.
A Cathay Pacific Airbus A350-900 XWB.

Reuters

Delta Air Lines…

A Delta Air Lines Airbus A350-900 XWB.
A Delta Air Lines Airbus A350-900 XWB.

GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty

Air France…

An Air France Airbus A350-900 XWB.
An Air France Airbus A350-900 XWB.

PASCAL PAVANI/AFP/Getty

South African Airways…

A South African Airways Airbus A350-900 XWB.
A South African Airways Airbus A350-900 XWB.

South African Airways

Read More: Bankrupt South African Airways just debuted its newest plane, the Airbus A350, weeks early despite verging on the brink of collapse

Singapore Airlines…

A Singapore Airlines Airbus A350-900 XWB.
A Singapore Airlines Airbus A350-900 XWB.

C. v. Grinsven/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty

And Qatar Airways.

A Qatar Airways Airbus A350-900 XWB.
A Qatar Airways Airbus A350-900 XWB.

Christoph Schmidt/picture alliance/Getty

The manufacturer has been moving full-steam ahead with automated tech not only in the passenger realm but also in its military division.

An Airbus A330 MRTT.
An Airbus A330 MRTT.

Airbus

An Airbus A310 MRTT completed an automated air-to-air refuel in April over the Atlantic, the first aircraft to do so.

An Airbus A310 MRTT.
An Airbus A310 MRTT.

Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

Read More: Airbus just beat Boeing to be the first to complete a wholly automated air-to-air refueling operation

It was a major blow to the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus, which the US government chose of the Airbus A330 MRTT as the Air Force’s next refueler.

A Boeing KC-46 Pegasus.
A Boeing KC-46 Pegasus.

LINDSEY WASSON/Reuters

For its passenger jets, though, Airbus states the tech won’t replace pilots in the cockpit but will make flying safer by helping reduce workload.

An Airbus A350 XWB cockpit.
An Airbus A350 XWB cockpit.

Alex Davies / Business Insider

Source: Airbus

When the test had its first milestone, the airline industry was facing a pilot shortage.

An Airbus A350-1000 XWB.
An Airbus A350-1000 XWB.

Andreas Zeitler/Shutterstock.com

Now, airlines are finding themselves with too many pilots as fewer flights are being flown due to the pandemic.

An Airbus A350-1000 XWB.
An Airbus A350-1000 XWB.

Tom Buysse/Shutterstock.com

“For autonomous technologies to improve flight operations and overall aircraft performance, pilots will remain at the heart of operations,” Airbus said in a press release.

An Airbus A350 cockpit.
An Airbus A350 cockpit.

Dmitry Birin/Shutterstock.com

Source: Airbus

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