Robot pilots, living on Mars and a new spacecraft

Published 5:56 am Saturday, August 24, 2019

Aviation Week magazine has reported that the partnership of Dzyne Technologies and the Air Force Research Laboratories has autonomously flown a 1968 Cessna 206 single engine plane at the Dugway Proving ground in Utah. The plane took off, flew for two hours and landed with no human aboard and without being controlled from the ground. They did it with a removable robot they call ROBO. 

It is robot that pushes the yoke and rudder pedals like a pilot.

With the shortage of pilots, I feel sure there is a strong incentive to replace the airline pilots with a robot. I predict that, at first, there will be a robot to replace the first officer or copilot to assure the passengers that a real person is in charge. Nowadays, the plane flies itself most of the time anyway and in very low visibility conditions can land itself. This is known as a Category III landing.

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I remember when my son-in-law was flying into Santiago, Chile and he encountered very low visibility. He said coming down quickly from over the Andes mountains to land at near sea level was a challenge at best. He said he engaged the automatic pilot in a landing mode and hoped for the best.

He said, “I knew that in the next few seconds I would be landing safely or be dead.”

Of course, he landed safely and was able to see well enough to taxi off the runway safely. It seems we are not lacking much to do the whole flight without a pilot. 

Now back to space and about Elon Musk.

He has some way-out ideas, but who knows, he may be successful.

He wants to colonize Mars so that humanity will not be wiped out when that huge asteroid hits the earth. Of course, we don’t know if this will happen.

To prepare Mars for habitation, he wants to use nuclear bombs to blast both poles of Mars to release tons of carbon dioxide so that it will increase the reflective capacity of the atmosphere to retain more of the heat from the sun that Mars receives.

How does he know if there is carbon dioxide at Mars’ poles? I don’t know.

To further enhance the heat of Mars, he wants huge reflectors or mirrors in orbit to reflect more of the sun’s radiation onto the surface. He has stated that he wants to die on Mars, which means he will be one of those first people to go to Mars.

Another interesting space story is the Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser.

This concept vehicle looks to me like a scaled down version of the space shuttle. The design is similar to the lifting body that NASA developed on the way to design the shuttle. It was originally designed to carry up to seven astronauts into low-earth orbit.

Now, it has been redesigned to carry cargo to the International Space Station and then return to earth landing on the runway at Cape Canaveral, just like the shuttle.

Don Lee, a pilot flying out of Lawrence County Airport since 1970, has been in charge of equipment and grounds maintenance for the last several years. He can be reached at