UK engineers in race to develop world's first pilot-free planes

Experts urge UK aviation industry to test cutting-edge ideas such as solar-powered flight
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The UK could be the first country to develop pilot-free planes if it listens to advice from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), which is pushing for the country to do further research into aviation technology. In its report, 'Aero 2075: Flying into a Bright Future?' IMechE promoted several new plane concepts, such as pilot-free and solar powered planes, which the UK could pursue in order catch up with aerospace research in other countries. (credit: Airbus)
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Nasa and Lockheed Martin’s ‘Green Supersonic Machine’, is not only capable of supersonic, sub-orbital space flight, which would speed up flights across large continents, but would also be pilot free. The UK is reportedly already involved in the production of driverless planes for the military, which could be extended for freighter aircraft. (credit: NASA/Lockheed Martin)
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The Double Bubble is a 180 passenger aircraft fusing two aircraft bodies together lengthwise and mounting three turbofan jet engines on the tail.\nAccording to IMechE, despite it being the second biggest aerospace manufacturer in the world, the UK's spending on R&D "flat-lined" since the downturn. China, India and Brazil on the other hand, are investing in a bid to boost their market share.
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The idea that the UK could invest in the development of solar-powered aircrafts, such as QinetiQ’s ‘Solar Impulse', was also put out there. Fronted by round-the-world hot air balloonist Bertrand Piccard, this concept has already had a successful test flight out of Switzerland in July 2010, proving it can run both day and night on the power of the sun. (QinetiQ)
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Models capable of formation flying were another suggestion. Ultra-efficient blended wing aircraft, capable of carrying 650 passengers each, could allow formation flying, which in turn could save fuel and cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent. If the UK was to push ahead with development, there could be a number of UK-designed innovations in the skies within the next 50 years. (credit: IMechE)
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Boeing and Nasa’s ‘Phantom Works’ X48B blended wing aircraft, was another potential concept for UK production. With 17 percent global market share, the UK aerospace sector is the largest in Europe, the report said, generating £29bn in sales last year and employing around 100,000 people throughout the country. (credit: NASA)
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IMechE's concept design for a double decker blended wing aircraft, capable of carrying 650 passengers. The report said it was the time for industry and government to focus on sectors that can help lift the country’s economy. (credit: IMechE)