Britten-Norman Wants The Islander To Become Autonomous

British aircraft manufacturer Britten-Norman has partnered with UK unmanned systems expert Blue Bear to develop what it thinks will be the future of British air transport. Britten-Norman says that together with Blue Bear, they want to make autonomous flight a reality by the mid-2020s.

Britten-Norman Islander
Britten-Norman has been building planes for 60 years. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia

According to a press release seen by Simple Flying, the plan is to build an aircraft based on Britten-Norman’s famous Islander platform with autonomous flight capabilities alongside other zero-carbon aircraft. Having designed and produced aircraft for over 60 years, the company is the sole United Kingdom aircraft manufacturer and has built a sterling reputation with its successful Islander aircraft.

The Islander has STOL capabilities

Known as a rugged workhorse, the Islander can perform many roles that range from passenger and transport to medivac and search and rescue. The aircraft’s versatility and ability to take off and land in remote locations have made the Islander the backbone of many communities.

The Britten-Norman Islander is a multi-role aircraft. Photo: MilborneOne via Wikimedia

Blue Bear is a Managed Service Provider in unmanned systems and the UK’s foremost leader in air autonomy. The firm has demonstrated UK firsts for single UAS and swarm UAS operations, enabled by its 5th generation Open Architecture avionics.

The Islander will have an autonomous co-pilot

Starting this month, the two companies will work in partnership to automate a Britten-Norman Islander aircraft operation. The first objective will be to demonstrate a plane capable of flying with a single pilot and an autonomous co-pilot.

This aircraft will then be expected to enter service sometime in the mid-2020s and will present significant cost savings for regional air operators. Currently, regional air transport in the UK is underdeveloped and in many cases, such as the Scottish Isles, has to rely on government subsidies. This is due to high operating and maintenance costs that make providing a service to remote communities unsustainable.

Britten-Norman thinks this is the future of air travel

By using autonomous aircraft with a zero-carbon footprint, Britten-Norman hopes to make air transport faster, greener, and more accessible than road or rail by 2030. While celebrating the announcement, the two companies have released an image designed to look like an early travel poster.

The Islander will have an autonomous co-pilot. Image: Britten-Norman

Dr Yoge Patel, CEO of Blue Bear, said the following in the press release: 

“Blue Bear is absolutely delighted to be working with Britten-Norman, whose talent for rapidly turning new challenges into solutions for their customers is remarkable. We have found a kindred spirit, in so many aspects, with whom the next era of aviation can be genuinely realized. It’s a perfect match. Two agile SMEs with their own dedicated systems integration and flight test facilities can de-risk and flight prove innovations at an unprecedented pace”.

Meanwhile, William Hynett, CEO of Britten-Norman, added the following:

“We have become used to the ‘car of the future’ incorporating green and autonomous technology, the future of aviation will undergo a similar revolution. Blue Bear is the leading light when it comes to air autonomy technology, it is an absolute privilege to be partnering on this project.

This certainly looks quite promising and a step in the right direction for British aviation. The autonomous co-pilot will make operating flights cheaper for regional carriers, but they did not mention how the aircraft will be powered to make it carbon-neutral. Simple Flying is reaching out to them for comment regarding this.

What do you think about autonomous co-pilots? Please tell us your thoughts in the comments.