Are we the last helicopter pilots?
That might sound like a bit of a sensationalist headline but seriously, have you ever thought about how fast things are changing? Might this generation of pilots very well be the last to get into a cockpit every day and actually fly?
I go to work every day and I fly an aircraft that is undoubtedly more advanced than the generation before me, it’s got very advanced avionics and with the help of a 4-axis autopilot it leaves me with very little to do in cruise flight but I still have to show up to do it!
My job now is more of a flight manager. Radios, navigation, and autopilots are all taken care of by me, or my co-pilot. (yeah, there’s actually two of us in an aircraft that can almost fly itself). The biggest reason there’s still pilots at all is for the situational awareness and problem-solving abilities but with increasing technology, will a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) operator eventually do my job from a corner office at Aviation HQ?
If you’re anything like me you probably don’t look forward to the prospect that you can’t get airborne to do your job and instead have to do it from a remote console with your feet planted firmly on the ground
Don’t get me wrong, this sounds like progress and I wouldn’t want to get in the way of progress. It’s through innovation that new opportunities arise, ones that we probably haven’t even thought of yet. Where would we be if the car hadn’t essentially replaced the horse-drawn carriage? No doubt though, that there were coachmen saddened to see their beloved way of life disappear.
Let’s take a look at some of the things that are happening right now…
I’m sure we are all familiar with hobby drones by now, every 12 yr old in the country has one but surprisingly it’s the adults that have them, that can be more reckless. Daily, there are reports of drones overflying airports, forest fires and Medevac LZ’s, more often than not, its adults that should know better that are at the controls
It’s not uncommon now to see NOTAMS in your area for drone activity, a recent one near me was for a hospital apparently using it to transport organs, yeah I didn’t know they did that either. There is certainly an increasing number of Law Enforcement drones and there are even drones that can drop life-saving devices to victims at sea, not to mention the obvious, the movie you’re watching might not have used helicopters for the aerial footage either. And that’s just the small stuff…
According to Unmanned Systems news, Leonardo in 2018 completed test flights of a helicopter with no safety pilot on board. The SW-4 completed 45 mins in various phases of flight to include remote start-up and shut-down.
Aurora Flight Sciences in Manassas VA have developed what they call AACUS – Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System. Their website describes it as
“An autonomous helicopter program designed to give a Marine on the ground the ability to request a supply delivery via helicopter, which flies to their location with minimal human assistance and can autonomously land in an austere, possibly hostile landing zone. Upon delivery, the helicopter will autonomously return to its origin or proceed to another delivery point.”