An advanced fly-by-wire system capable of landing grossly damaged unmanned aircraft—demonstrated on video saving a plane missing 80 percent of one wing—is key to solving one of unmanned flight’s biggest problems
Word spread last week that a rogue MQ-8B Fire Scout copter drone entered restricted airspace just 40 miles shy of Washington D.C. after losing contact with its operators. The revelation occurred smack in the middle of AVUSI 2010, the world's largest UAV tradeshow. And it served as a poignant reminder that all the game-changing technology on display here at the Denver Convention Center still has some innovating to do, especially when flight crews lose control of their unmanned craft.
But to lose control of a flying robot over a warzone is one thing; things get much more complicated in crowded domestic skies. One remarkable system, capable of bringing a plane missing most of one wing safely home, aims to make losing control a more palatable proposition.
Most business jets don't get anywhere near their maximum range traveling at top speed. The Dassault Falcon 7X, unveiled in February, is the exception. Its long, slender wings help lift the plane to 41,000 feet even when fully loaded (other jets must burn significant amounts of fuel to reach similar altitudes, where airplanes operate more efficiently) and suffer less drag at high speeds than do other wing designs. The result: a 6,560-mile range while traveling at 530 mph. Advanced flaps and slats let the Falcon land at slower speeds and on shorter runways.