The United States Air Force is quick to respond when one of its aircraft crashes. A team is immediately dispatched to the crash site in order to secure the wreckage and rescue the pilot. However, this can often prove to be difficult for the rescue team if they’re at risk because of the terrain and weather or due to the risk of enemy fire. That ends up putting more lives at risk. To safeguard those lives, the air force is now thinking about using autonomous aircraft for pilot rescue missions.
Aviation Week reports on a solicitation from the Air Force Research Laboratory about the possibility of using an autonomous aircraft to play the pilot and other personnel onboard an air force jet away from the crash site in safety.
The Personnel Recovery / Transport Vehicle has been described to be a small aircraft that’s capable of flying autonomously with a range of at least 100 miles while being able to land and takeoff with a small footprint. It should at least be able to carry two people at the very least with one possibly in a medical litter or up to four people with 1,400 pounds of equipment.
The autonomous aircraft also has to be capable of operating in all types of terrain with water recovery being described as a desired capability “but not a requirement.” A low acoustic audible signature during takeoff and landing is also mentioned as one of the requirements.
These autonomous aircraft will thus be of a lower-cost compared to the ones currently used for rescue missions. The air force would be able to deploy more of them without putting more lives at risk and may also be able to reduce the time it takes in order to recover personnel from crash sites.