A self-flying Cessna just completed a fully automated flight with no pilot input as startup Xwing seeks to revolutionize aviation

Xwing Autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B
Xwing’s autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B.

  • Xwing completed a fully automated “gate-to-gate” flight with its self-flying plane.
  • Pilots merely monitored the aircraft while it performed maneuvers on its own.
  • The technology could revolutionize aviation and cut back on pilot expenses for airlines.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Fully self-flying planes are moving closer and closer to becoming an everyday reality.

Xwing Autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B
Xwing’s autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B.

Xwing, a Bay Area aviation startup, just completed its first “gate-to-gate” autonomous flight with its flagship aircraft, a Cessna Grand Caravan 208B.

Xwing Autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B
Xwing’s autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B.

All pilots had to do was sit back and monitor while the plane started up, taxied out, took off, flew, landed, taxied back, and shut down all on its own.

Xwing Autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B
Xwing’s autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B.

The flight took place in February 2021 at Buchanan Field Airport in Concord, California just outside of San Francisco. A pilot was inside the aircraft but merely to watch over the systems, talk to air traffic control, and take over for the automated system if need be.

Xwing Autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B
Xwing’s autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B.

Another pair of eyes was keeping close watch from Xwing’s “mission control center,” to where data from the aircraft include speed, altitude, pitch, and location was continuously fed.

Xwing Autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B
Xwing’s autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B.

“Over the past year, our team has made significant advancements in extending and refining our AutoFlight system to seamlessly integrate ground taxiing, take-offs, landings, and flight operations, all supervised from our mission control center via redundant data links,” Marc Piette, chief executive officer and founder of Xwing, said in a statement.

Xwing Autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B
Xwing’s autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B.

The Grand Caravan is a tried and true aviation workhorse, with Xwing’s model powered by a turboprop Pratt & Whitney PT6A-114A engine offering 675 shaft horsepower.

Xwing Autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B
Xwing’s autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B.

Source: FlightAware

Its range is around 1,000 nautical miles, enough to fly non-stop from San Francisco to cities like Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Seattle, and even Denver, if conditions allow.

Xwing Autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B
Xwing’s autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B.

Source: Textron Aviation 

And as many as 14 occupants can be carried by the plane.

Xwing Autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B
Xwing’s autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B.

The Grand Caravan has uses in both the passenger and cargo realm, with Xwing looking to serve the latter.

Xwing Autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B
Xwing’s autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B.

“As we work to bring our technology to market, I’m particularly looking forward to building out our commercialization strategy to bring consumers and logistics companies the most effective air cargo solutions available,” Jesse Kallman, Xwing’s vice president of commercialization and strategy, said in a statement.

Xwing Autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B
Xwing’s autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B.

Xwing has joined the worldwide COVID-19 airlift with cargo flights carrying 800 pounds of personal protective equipment to the Navajo Nation in Arizona, performed autonomously from takeoff to landing.

Xwing Autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B
Xwing’s autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B.

And major cargo carriers already rely on the Grand Caravan for flights. FedEx Express is one of many that uses the aircraft to reach remote communities.

FedEx Cessna Grand Caravan

Essential air service carriers, or those that are subsidized by the government to fly to underserved American communities, including Southern Airways Express and Air Choice One also use the Grand Caravan for some flights.

Cessna Grand Caravan

These flights could one day be operated autonomously thanks to Xwing’s technology.

Xwing Autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B
Xwing’s autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B.

Xwing estimates that cost savings could be in the 20-30% range for an aircraft operator including everything from pilot training and salaries to overnighting expenses.

Xwing Autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B
Xwing’s autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B.

Source: Today

That doesn’t necessarily mean flights will be completely pilot-free, however, as companies like Airbus have said that their tech is intended to aid onboard pilots rather than replace them completely.

Airbus A350 cockpit

Airbus is also leading the charge towards self-flying planes, having demonstrated successful autonomous taxi, takeoff, and landing maneuvers with an Airbus A350-1000 XWB.

Airbus A350 Autonomous taxi, takeoff, and landing
Airbus’ self-flying Airbus A350-1000 XWB.

Read More: Airbus’ self-flying plane just completed successful taxi, take-off, and landing tests, opening the door for fully autonomous flight

Xwing just announced a total funding raise of $55 million and has been identified by venture capitalists such as Andrew Beebe of Obvious Ventures and Kirsten Bartok of AirFinance as one of the leaders in the autonomous aviation space. The company was operating in stealth until May 2020.

Xwing Autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B
Xwing’s autonomous Cessna Grand Caravan 208B with founder and CEO Marc Piette.

Read More: 6 autonomous aviation startups poised to bring self-flying planes, drones, and air taxis from the fringes to reality, according to VCs

Read the original article on Business Insider

Why an airline executive is excited about Textron Aviation’s new King Air 360, the next generation of a 50-year-old plane

Beechcraft King Air 360
A Beechcraft King Air 360.

  • Textron Aviation unveiled the King Air 360 in August with upgrades for passengers and pilots.
  • Cabins now feel wider, and the cockpit has advanced systems like autothrottle and digital pressurization.
  • Advanced Air’s Levi Stockton explains why he’s excited about the plane, even if his firm isn’t purchasing one. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

An aviation fan favorite just got an upgrade. 

Textron Aviation is continuing the legacy of the iconic Beechcraft King Air family of aircraft and debuted its latest iteration in August. Starting at $7.9 million, the King Air 360 features advanced onboard systems aimed at easing the flying experience.

“The Beechcraft King Air 360 builds on decades of renowned versatility and reliability in the King Air family,” Ron Draper, Textron Aviation’s president and CEO, said, “and this upgrade further elevates it with the aircraft’s superior features and engineering advancements designed to create an enhanced flying experience for passengers and crew alike.”

Any frequent private aircraft flyer is sure to recognize the King Air as its been faithfully flying since the 1960s. Aircraft in the product line have been used by entities ranging from private airlines to national governments.

Levi Stockton is the president of Hawthorne, California-based Advanced Air, an aircraft management firm and private charter airline that operates 22 aircraft, including nine King Airs. He recently got a first-hand look at the King Air 360 during a recent visit to Textron Aviation’s Kansas factory.

Here’s why he’s excited about the Beechcraft King Air 360. 

Stockton has been flying King Air’s since 2005. The King Air 350, the family’s largest passenger model, is also the flagship of his firm’s scheduled airline division.

Beechcraft King Air 360
A Beechcraft King Air 360.

“The King Air is really an amazing airplane that does what is advertised,” Stockton told Insider.

Beechcraft King Air 360
A Beechcraft King Air 360.

And from what he’s seen, the King Air 360 is no different. Textron Aviation’s latest turboprop has room for up to 11 passengers and a range of 1,806 nautical miles.

Beechcraft King Air 360
A Beechcraft King Air 360.

Source: Textron Aviation

It can tackle the short hops like New York-Boston or Los Angeles-Las Vegas while also able to stretch its legs on longer routes like Chicago-Miami or Denver-Philadelphia, when conditions allow.

Beechcraft King Air 360
A Beechcraft King Air 360.

The true improvements are on the inside, however, including in the passenger cabin that can seat up to 11 passengers. Technically it’s same as its predecessor’s, but Stockton says that the cabin liners have been made thinner to give the cabin a more spacious feel.

Beechcraft King Air 360
A Beechcraft King Air 360.

Source: Textron Aviation

The windows have manual shades instead of elaborate electronic shades or dimmers.

Beechcraft King Air 360
A Beechcraft King Air 360.

And the side tables have been elevated so passengers have more knee space. The improvements may seem basic but likely come as a result of customer feedback, Stockton said.

Beechcraft King Air 360
A Beechcraft King Air 360.

The Collins Aerospace Pro Line Fusion cockpit has one of the aircraft’s greatest improvements, the addition of an autothrottle system for pilots.

Beechcraft King Air 360
A Beechcraft King Air 360.

The system allows pilots to set a speed and the aircraft will automatically adjust the throttles to accommodate, reducing pilot workload and ensuring the plane is running at peak performance.

Beechcraft King Air 360
A Beechcraft King Air 360.

“You’re going to allow the airplane to always be right at the right performance numbers rather than trying to get the throttles just perfect,” Stockton said, adding that this can help prevent engine issues and keep maintenance costs down.

Beechcraft King Air 360
A Beechcraft King Air 360.

Cabin pressurization is also automated on the new aircraft, further reducing pilot workload. Aircraft cruising at 27,000 feet will also be pressurized as low as 5,960 feet, Stockton said, decreasing air travel’s effect on the body for passengers.

Beechcraft King Air 360
A Beechcraft King Air 360.

Textron also unveiled the King Air 360ER, offering longer ranges of up to 2,692 nautical miles. That’s enough range to fly from Los Angeles to New York.

Beechcraft King Air 360
A Beechcraft King Air 360.

Source: Textron Aviation

Up to 15 passengers can be seated in the King Air 360ER.

Beechcraft King Air 360
A Beechcraft King Air 360.

Source: Textron Aviation

Stockton said that King Air has carrying capabilities that outweigh even some jet aircraft. Up to 15 passengers can fit in the King Air 360ER while most light and midsize jets can’t, even if the turboprop isn’t as fast.

Beechcraft King Air 360
A Beechcraft King Air 360.

And cargo carriers can also use the plane to transport freight.

Beechcraft King Air 360
A Beechcraft King Air 360.

Both aircraft are powered by Pratt & Whitney PT6A-60A engines, offering a maximum cruise speed of over 300 knots.

Beechcraft King Air 360
A Beechcraft King Air 360.

Source: Textron Aviation

Textron also unveiled an upgraded variant of its King Air 250 aircraft with the King Air 260.

Beechcraft King Air 260
A Beechcraft King Air 260.

Source: Textron Aviation

The slightly smaller aircraft can seat up to nine passengers and fly a maximum range of 1,720 nautical miles at comparable speeds as the King Air 360.

Beechcraft King Air 260
A Beechcraft King Air 260.

Source: Textron Aviation

The same autothrottle and digital pressurization systems are also available in the King Air 260.

Beechcraft King Air 260
A Beechcraft King Air 260.

Stockton said that making the King Air faster will be something he looks for in future variants.

Beechcraft King Air 260
A Beechcraft King Air 260.

So will Advanced Air be placing the next order for the King Air 360? No. Stockton’s firm typically manages aircraft purchased by other companies or wealthy individuals and does not typically make purchases itself.

Beechcraft King Air 360
A Beechcraft King Air 360.

But Stockton does expect to be managing a King Air 360 within the next few years for a client, and is excited to see the iconic aircraft continuing to be updated.

Beechcraft King Air 360
A Beechcraft King Air 360.

“It just shows that this particular airplane is going to be around for a long time,” Stockton said.

Beechcraft King Air 360
A Beechcraft King Air 360.

Read the original article on Business Insider