736 Autonomous Aircraft

We talk about autonomous aircraft with an Xwing executive. In the news, Airbus and Qatar Airways settle their dispute over A350 paint problems, a personal eVTOL, the 2019 report that explains how Boeing lost its way, a close call with a B737 taking off and a B767 landing on the same runway, the F-22 Raptor gets its first kill, and a Boeing 737 has crashed fighting fires in Australia.

Xwing Caravan taking off.
Xwing Caravan

Guest

Earl Lawrence is the Chief Compliance and Quality Officer at Xwing, a Part 135 air carrier operating across the United States. The company is building an air transportation system of certified autonomous aircraft, starting with the express regional air cargo market. Xwing has demonstrated an autonomous gate-to-gate flight with a cargo aircraft. The plane was able to taxi, take off, land, and return to the gate entirely on its own.

Headshot of Earl Lawrence, Chief Compliance and Quality Officer at Xwing
Earl Lawrence

Earl explains that the Xwing vision for autonomous aircraft doesn’t mean moving the cockpit to the ground or eliminating the pilot. It means taking the pilot out of the airplane and into a control center. A single pilot could provide guidance to multiple flights from one console while handling ATC communication.

Doing this offers cost savings, greater aircraft utilization, and more stable and predictable hours for pilots. Earl tells us about the positive impact on pilot lifestyle and the opportunity for some disabled people to become pilots.

Earl points out that Xwing is using autonomous technologies, but for the most part following existing regulations. Autonomy is needed to bring the price of flying down and make it simpler and more accessible to people.

Earl brings more than three decades of experience in the aviation industry to Xwing. Most recently, Lawrence served as the Executive Director of Aircraft Certification at the FAA, leading an organization of over 1,400 people that oversee all types of certification, production approval, airworthiness certification, and continued airworthiness of the U.S. civil aircraft fleet – including commercial and general aviation activities. Before joining the FAA, Earl spent sixteen years at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), where his efforts contributed to the creation of the Sport Pilot and Light Sport Aircraft categories. Throughout his career, Earl has consistently led the charge in bringing cutting-edge aviation technology to market.

Aviation News

Airbus and Qatar Airways settle A350 dispute

In 2021, Qatar Airways complained to Airbus that some A350 fuselage paint was peeling and unsightly. Qatar grounded some 30 aircraft and asked Airbus for compensation. Airbus said it was only a cosmetic issue, which they would address. But Qatar refused to take new deliveries and Airbus canceled the A350 contract with Qatar. And then Airbus canceled an order for A321neo jets. Qatar filed a lawsuit in London.

Now both parties have made up and “reached an amicable and mutually agreeable settlement.” Terms were not made public.

Press release: Qatar Airways and Airbus reach amicable settlement in legal dispute

Startup Says It’s Personal eVTOL is the One for Supercar Customers

Israeli company AIR has spent four years developing and testing a sport eVTOL “that is easy to handle and can be used daily.” Their mission is to “create personal, intuitive flying vehicles at scale, for exciting and safe experiences.” The winged multicopter seats two. You can pre-order the AIR ONE with a $1,000 deposit. The base price is $150,000. They have 300 pre-orders.

Artist's rendering of an Air One in flight.
Air One in flight.

The Long-Forgotten Flight That Sent Boeing Off Course

That flight is the headquarters move from Seattle to Chicago. “A company once driven by engineers became driven by finance.”

Fedex B763 and Southwest B737 at Austin on Feb 4th 2023, loss of separation on runway resolved by go around

A FedEx 767-300 was on final for a CATIII ILS approach to Austin Texas runway 18L and was cleared to land. The tower let the crew know that a Boeing 737 would depart prior to their arrival. The 767 was cleared to land. Meantime, a Southwest Airlines 737-700 was holding short on runway 18L for departure and was cleared for takeoff from that runway. The tower let the Southwest pilots know that a Boeing 767 heavy was on a 3-mile final. About 30 seconds later the Tower asked if they were on the roll, and the crew confirmed they were. Shortly thereafter (25 seconds) someone says “Southwest abort, the Fedex was on the go (around)”.

F-22 Shoots Down Chinese Spy Balloon Off Carolinas With Missile (Updated)

The large balloon traversed much of the country, sometimes over sensitive military locations. As the balloon moved off the coast, F-22 fighters from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force used a single AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile to bring it down.

Why stratospheric balloons are used in era of space-based intelligence

Balloons can hover closer to the ground and may be able to intercept communication or electronic signals that orbiting systems can’t. Balloons also offer more persistent, less predictable coverage over an area of interest.

A Boeing 737-300 Has Crashed Fighting Fires In Australia

Early reports indicated both pilots were taken to the hospital with minor injuries. The 737 was operated by Coulson Aviation to help firefighting efforts in the Fitzgerald River National Park. After dropping the load at around 700 feet, flight tracking data shows the plane reaching about 1,800 feet and then crashing.

Australia News Desk

While it hasn’t exactly been your stereotypical summer weather in Australia, we haven’t (yet) seen any snow – and certainly none in Sydney.  Snow, however, was exactly what greeted a Sydney-bound passenger this week as confusion with the airport code when booking saw him arrive in a rather chilly Sidney, Montana

G’day? Man Realizes Too Late He Bought a Ticket to Sidney — not Sydney

Meanwhile, the Qantas and Emirates codeshare agreement noted up ten years this week.  We look at what that has meant to Australian travelers.

10 years on, has the Qantas-Emirates partnership delivered?

Qantas is still in the sights of local media, however, with another turnback, this time for a QantasLink Dash 8 due to severe turbulence.  The event forced CEO Allan Joyce to go on the offensive, pointing out a few facts about turnbacks, comparing them not only to airlines overall but specifically the local QF rival, Virgin Australia

Qantas passenger and flight attendant rushed to hospital suffering head and neck injuries after sudden turbulence

Mentioned

Video: What it’s like to fly the Opener BlackFly eVTOL

AOPA Podcasts

The people who live inside airplanes

Hosts this Episode

Max Flight, Rob Mark, and Max Trescott. With contributions by Grant McHerron and Steve Vischer.