SpaceX and Tesla veterans-led Reliable Robotics has successfully completed the first test flights of the autonomous Cessna 172 Skyhawk (C172) passenger aircraft in the US airspace.

During the first flight, the unmanned C172 taxied, took off and landed automatically as the pilot used a remote command user interface.

The successful flight test marked the first time a privately funded company operated a pilotless passenger aircraft above populated regions.

Reliable Robotics co-founder and CEO Robert Rose said: “We spent the first portion of our flight test programme focused on the C172.

“We thoroughly tested every aspect of our system in simulation and conducted rigorous safety checks before operating the aircraft without a pilot on board and are now proud to share what we’ve been working on.

“By bringing advanced automation to aviation, we will deliver higher safety, reliability and convenience for cargo operators and eventually for passengers.”

Reliable Robotics commenced the C172 programme in January 2018. It completed a fully automated gate-to-gate operation the same year.

The company’s autonomous platform is incorporated into the 2,550lb C172 aircraft.

Last September, the company completed widespread system safety analysis and testing before the unmanned test flight.

Reliable Robotics specialises in designing and building a proprietary autonomous platform that can be applied to any fixed-wing aircraft.

The company recently demonstrated a fully automated remote landing of the Cessna 208 Caravan (C208), which is capable of ferrying 14 passengers.

The company is now working with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to bring this technology to market.

In May, electric aircraft motor manufacturer magniX and aerospace testing, engineering and certification company AeroTEC conducted the first flight of an all-electric Cessna Grand Caravan 208B aircraft.