On The Radar
Autonomous flight technology pioneer Xwing has applied for FAA approval to add its experimental Cessna 208B Grand Caravan aircraft to the Part 135 operations certificate of its subsidiary San Antonio Air Charter. The company has converted the turboprop single workhorse to test and certify its optionally piloted systems on commercial cargo services.
The approval process involves filing a petition for exemption from Federal Aviation Regulations. The FAA published notice of the proposed exemption on August 31, giving interested parties the chance to comment through September 20. The application refers to the aircraft being flown “as if it is unmanned from a ground control station, but is actually under the supervision of an on-board pilot in command, who is able to disconnect the auto-flight system and assume traditional control of the aircraft should an off-nominal situation arise.”
In April, Xwing reported that it had conducted the first fully autonomous gate-to-gate operation with the adapted Grand Caravan on a non-commercial flight. The aircraft flew from its base at Buchanan Field Airport in Concord, California, with the aircraft being remotely monitored from its mission control center and with a pilot on board as a backup.
The aircraft taxied from the gate to the runway, took off, and subsequently landed and taxied back to the gate in a fully autonomous operation. All interactions with air traffic controllers were conducted by the ground-based pilot who monitored the flight via data links with multiple redundancies.