By David Millward, Transport Editor
It is part of a programme which would see “pilotless” aircraft used for search and rescue missions, coastal patrols and eventually pave the way for the removal of the co-pilot on commercial flights.
The trials are being carried out by BAE systems, which has started flying a small passenger plane over the Irish sea.
Although a pilot is being used for take-off and landing, control of the aircraft during the flight itself is left in the hands of the computer, which is supervised by a remote commander on the ground.
However should communication between the control centre and plane be lost, the computer can take over completely.
The technology in the specially fitted out BAE Jetstream, which is nicknamed the Flying Test Bed, goes considerably further than the auto-pilot system found on commercial aircraft.