At Farnborough, SpaceShipTwo and a Brit UAV

BAE Systems' unmanned aircraft aims to persuade regulators that UAVs are safe to be flown in the U.K.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo on display at the Farnborough Air Show.
Jason Jenkins

All this week in the pouring British rain, people in suits have been gathering at a biennial trade show in Farnborough, England, to ogle the latest aircraft -- and sometimes buy a few. There's plenty on display for aviation geeks to get excited about, such as the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, but I was mainly there to take a look at the tech that BAE Systems is hawking out to its mostly military customers.

The main attraction was the first public showing of a plane that flies itself -- a 1983 Jetstream once used by a Scottish distillery that's been bought up to date with various cameras and a cabin full of PCs. It's part of a program known as ASTRAEA (autonomous systems technology-related airborne evaluation and assessment) that aims to persuade regulators here that unmanned aircraft are safe to fly.

UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) are not currently allowed to fly in U.K. airspace, partly because the skies are so crowded and partly because there's a distinct lack of population-free bits of barren wasteland to crash into. The program is hoping to change that, so the companies involved can take advantage of the billions of dollars that UAVs are forecast to generate over the next decade and beyond. I found the project fascinating -- you can find out more in my photo gallery on CNET UK.

Jason models the BAE Systems Striker helmet. Jason Jenkins

BAE was also showing off a couple of cool helmets for military use that let pilots "see" through the walls of the plane -- you can see more of these in my post too.

As a side note, something that made me smile was a stand showing off BAE's involvement with UK Sport -- especially taekwondo. The sport has recently moved to electronic scoring, which requires competitors to wear a vest that senses where their opponent has punched or kicked, at what angle and how hard.

BAE has analysed the vest, worked out exactly what it does and provided the data to the Great Britain coaches, so they can alter their attacks to get the best result. So if you see the GB taekwondo Olympic team winning gold medals, you can put it partly down to BAE gaming the vest.

See also, on CNET UK: "A plane that flies itself and Virgin Galactic star at Farnborough Air Show."