Airbus released photos on Wednesday of a flight test it conducted last month that may be the next step in making fully self-flying planes a reality.
The flight tests successfully sought to have one of its newest aircraft, the Airbus A350-1000 XWB, take off from Toulouse-Blagnac Airport in France completely on its own, aided by imagery from the aircraft's camera.
Test pilots for the European manufacturer said that all they had to do was line the aircraft up and engage the autopilot, with the aircraft doing the rest, including making the necessary corrections to stay on the centerline and bringing the plane's nose up when required.
Here's how the automatic takeoff was performed and what it means for the future of aviation.
"It started to move and accelerate automatically maintaining the runway centre line, at the exact rotation speed as entered in the system," said Airbus test pilot Yann Beaufils. "The nose of the aircraft began to lift up automatically to take the expected take-off pitch value and a few seconds later we were airborne."
The A350 typically has three exterior cameras installed both for viewing by the pilots and passengers.
Similar to self-driving cars, the cameras were fitted with technology to recognize the runway so that it could keep a straight path when departing.
The test pilots reported that the aircraft automatically made those corrections without the need for pilot input, greatly reducing the workload during takeoff.
The success of the takeoff is part of Airbus' Autonomous Taxi, Take-Off, and Landing project, which the manufacturer claims isn't to rush in a new era of self-flying planes, but to "explore autonomous technologies alongside other innovations."
Autonomous landings are nothing new with autoland being a feature on some of the world's most prolific passenger planes and even private jets.
Taxiing an aircraft, however, has historically been squarely a pilot-performed activity.
Now that Airbus has shown that the camera recognition technology can recognize the centerline of a runway, the next step would be recognizing the centerline of a taxiway.
Takeoff has similarly always been a pilot-required phase of flight; however, the act has been made easier with the help of autothrottle systems.
Though Airbus said “pilots will remain at the heart of the operations,” the successful test of the new technology just eliminated another obstacle on the road to autonomous self-flying aircraft.