Toulouse, 12 January 2023 – A350-1000 test aircraft being used by Airbus UpNext, a fully owned subsidiary of Airbus, to test out new on- and in-flight pilot aid systems.
The technologies being demonstrated, collectively referred to as DragonFly, include automated emergency diversion in cruise, automatic landing, and taxi assistance. They are intended to assess the viability and relevance of further research into autonomous flight systems in support of safer and more effective operations.
The technologies were able to help pilots throughout the flight test campaign when landing and taxiing, managing a fictitious disabled crew member event, and in flight. The aircraft was able to produce a new flight trajectory plan and interact with both Air Traffic Control (ATC) and the airline operations control center while taking into consideration external factors like flight zones, topography, and weather conditions.
So how does it work?
DragonFly could be a game-changer when it comes to derisking emergency operations. Its focus is on three key areas, each one drawing on a combination of data captured during flight and a vast corpus of flight information to promote automated yet intelligent decision-making.
DragonFly offers a solution to help ensure safe flight and landing. If the crew is unable to control the aircraft, the onboard function detects the issue and automatically selects the most suitable airport to redirect the aircraft towards.
But of course, flight paths and external factors are complex and changing. A dragonfly scans its surroundings and adapts its journey accordingly. Our DragonFly demonstrator does much the same thing, taking into account external factors such as flight zones, terrain, and weather conditions as it chooses where to land. But unlike a regular dragonfly, our DragonFly also benefits from a constant channel of communication between the aircraft and both Air Traffic Control and the Operations Control Centre of the airline to ensure a safe and coordinated approach.
What if a humble dragonfly could help us improve our aircraft? ? Discover how the new #AirbusUpNext DragonFly demonstrator takes inspiration from this extraordinary insect to improve safety and efficiency during flight.
? https://t.co/5wCsTDBG9Y pic.twitter.com/LpihLu3Sqc
— Airbus (@Airbus) January 12, 2023
Safe, automated landing at any airport in the world
A dragonfly’s vision works far more quickly than a human’s, which is why we have designed a system that combines sensors, computer vision algorithms, and robust guidance calculations to make a landing in low visibility or difficult weather conditions much easier.
These innovations pave the way for automated landing (if necessary), or can be customized according to the pilot’s flying skills to relieve them of additional processes in the event of an emergency or critical situation.
In time, DragonFly’s innovations could allow the aircraft to land at any airport in the world regardless of whether it is equipped with existing ground equipment technology currently used for automatic landing.
Airbus UpNext has also explored features for taxi assistance, which were tested in real-time conditions at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport. The technology provides the crew with audio alerts in reaction to obstacles, assisted speed control, and guidance to the runway using a dedicated airport map.
These 3 cameras allow our #A350 test aircraft to “see” ? and safely manoeuvre within its surroundings by reviewing and identifying features in the landscape… just like a dragonfly! Learn more: https://t.co/5wCsTDB8kq pic.twitter.com/MiEaCIgjbS
— Airbus (@Airbus) January 12, 2023
In addition to these capabilities, Airbus UpNext is launching a project to prepare the next generation of computer vision-based algorithms to advance landing and taxi assistance.
These tests were made possible through cooperation with Airbus subsidiaries and external partners including Cobham, Collins Aerospace, Honeywell, Onera, and Thales. DragonFly was partially funded by the French Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC) as part of the French Stimulus plan, which is part of the European Plan, Next Generation EU, and the France 2030 plan.