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Rockwell Collins shows off autopilot system

Aug. 9, 2012, Cedar Rapids, Iowa - Aurora Flight Sciences optionally piloted twin-engine aircraft, the Centaur, equipped with Rockwell Collins Athena 411 control system, has successfully completed the first fully autonomous takeoff and landing test flight.


August 9, 2012
By Carey Fredericks

Commenting on the test, Rockwell Collins UAS and Control Technologies director Dave Schreck said that the successful flight test marked the first time an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) autopilot had been flown in an optionally piloted aircraft.

"We are using affordable UAS technology to bring advanced aerospace functions and enhanced safety features to optionally piloted vehicles," Schreck said.

Initially developed for military UAS applications and compatible with unmanned and manned aircraft applications, the Athena 411 control system is an incorporated inertial navigation system, GPS, air data / attitude and heading reference system and flight control system.

Rockwell Collins claim the autopilot offers attitude and heading measurements, with enhanced static and dynamic accuracy, over traditional spinning mass vertical and directional gyros.

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The company's move towards development of secure UAV components to assist in transition for the commercial aviation follows the decision by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to require US national airspace to be launched by 2015.

Centaur can be operated in three modes; in the first, the aircraft can be operated as a normal general aviation aircraft, with retained FAA certification and the full functionality of its flight management system.

The aircraft can also be transformed into an unmanned aircraft within four hours by deploying a separate control system at the co-pilot's position.

And in hybrid mode, it can be operated as a crewed UAV, which allows the crews to control the aircraft through an aboard control station, operate payloads and perform experiments, link up with air traffic controllers, and serve as a safety witness.

In addition, the aircraft also allows human pilots to counter-command the robotic flight control system at any time, and it can be operated with both electronic and mechanical override options.