An Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) demonstrator meant to support future optionally manned piloted aircraft was damaged during an experimentation mission Aug. 22, the laboratory said Aug. 23.

The Robotic Pilot Unmanned Conversion Program, called ROBOpilot, could eventually help convert a manned aircraft into a robotically piloted aircraft and back by temporarily installing the program’s frame where the human pilot’s seat would be.

A 1968 Cessna 206 with ROBOpilot installed preparing for engine start on the runway at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. (Courtesy photo)

The incident occurred at approximately 1 p.m. Mountain time at Michael Army Airfield on Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, and there were no injuries from the mishap, said a statement released by AFRL.

Marc Owens, ROBOTpilot program manager, did not say whether the platform is currently being repaired or if it had been completely damaged, but said in a Tuesday email to Defense Daily that assessments are being made by “qualified experts.” The aircraft damaged was the only flying version, he noted.

AFRL’s Safety Office is following the “prescribed processes for conducting the investigation” and the way ahead remains to be determined, Owens said.

Less than two weeks before the accident, AFRL and DZYNE Technologies Inc. successfully performed a two-hour initial flight of the ROBOpilot platform at Dugway Proving Ground (Defense Daily, Aug. 9).

AFRL Commander Maj. Gen. William Cooley said in the Aug. 23 statement that this incident is “exactly why we have experimentation programs.”

“We are here to provide cutting edge technology to the Warfighter meaning at a certain point in the process we need to take calculated risks to move forward,” he said. “We learn important lessons from every experiment and I’m certain the ROBOpilot team will study this data and chart an appropriate course going forward.”