FlightOS Automation System Promises Safety and Flexibility

 - March 17, 2020, 10:00 AM
Skyryse CEO Mark Groden tests the company's new FlightOS automation system in a Robinson R-44 helicopter. [Photo: Skyryse]

Flight automation specialist Skyryse is today launching its new FlightOS system that it says can be retrofitted into any aircraft to help pilots fly more safely by reducing pilot workload. According to the California-based startup, the flight automation system will expand the envelope in which aircraft can operate and also alleviate the pilot skills shortage.

FlightOS combines an onboard computer with hardware that powers the flight control actuators, essentially delivering four-axis, envelope-protected flying capability. According to Skyryse, the system could be retrofitted into any fixed- or rotary-wing aircraft and it is also offering it for new designs, including eVTOL aircraft being developed for applications such as urban air mobility (UAM). It does not directly interface with the rest of an aircraft’s avionics suite, although it does receive information from some systems.

Skyryse says it will be ready to start developing supplemental type certificates (STCs) within a few months, hopefully working in tandem with an airframe OEM. It has previously flown a prototype of the technology on a small fleet of Robinson R-44 helicopters and is believed to be working on an STC for that model.

“The system has access to the full flight envelope and kinetic energy of the aircraft so it can take full control and manage emergency situations [such as engine failure or loss of altitude],” Skyryse founder and CEO Mark Groden told AIN.

The company claims that its automation capability means that “pilots no longer need to worry about the complex flight controls or structural and airframe operating limits.” It says the new technology will be especially beneficial for operations such as emergency medical flights, firefighting (perhaps enabling night-time missions), and search and rescue.

With FlightOS, pilots operate flight controls via a touchscreen tablet or joystick, leaving the onboard computers to control all aspects of the flight envelope and manage the airframe’s structural and aerodynamic operating limits. The system also interfaces with the aircraft’s radar and sensors to maintain real-time situational awareness.

Groden told AIN that Skyryse intends to start introducing the system to experienced pilots, but ultimately he feels it would be of value to pilots with almost any level of experience and can be used after little more than 30 minutes of training. He stressed that FlightOS is not intended to undermine the role of the pilot. “This is a teaming between the human and the automation technology stack,” he said. “The human is always better at understanding the unknown unknowns, and the ultimate authority is with the human.”

The actuation system and flight control hardware for FlightOS are being provided by Moog, which has long specialized in this equipment. Former Moog chief technology officer Gonzalo Rey now holds the same position with Skyryse.

In September 2019, Skyryse started trial operations with an earlier version of the automation system called Flight Stack, which includes the airborne network environment and specially designed "smart" helipads. The company spent three months flying around the Los Angeles area to help identify the operational deficiencies that needed addressing.

For UAM operations, Skyryse feels that FlightOS could overcome anticipated constraints in the new generation eVTOL aircraft, such as not being able to fly in IFR conditions. It also expects to be able to connect the system to the technology used to run the full air-taxi experience in which passengers are moved to and from aircraft on the ground. Groden added that the system could also alleviate the widely anticipated shortage of pilots to operate the new aircraft.

Skyryse has raised $38 million from investors including Venrock, Eclipse Ventures, Fontinalis, Stanford University, and Ford Motor Company executive chairman Bill Ford.