10 July 2013

Navy to Try Landing Fighter-Sized UAV on Carrier

THe Navy is going to try to land the X-47B UAV on a carrier and see how it goes.

The Navy will attempt to land a drone the size of a fighter jet aboard an aircraft carrier for the first time Wednesday, showcasing the military's capability to have a computer program perform one of the most difficult tasks a pilot is asked to do.

If all goes as planned, a successful landing of the X-47B experimental aircraft will mean the Navy can move forward with its plans to develop another unmanned aircraft that will join the fleet alongside traditional airplanes to provide around-the-clock surveillance while also possessing a strike capability. The aircraft's success would pave the way for the U.S. to launch unmanned aircraft without the need to obtain permission from other countries to use their bases.

The X-47B experimental aircraft will take off from Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland before approaching the USS George H.W. Bush, which is operating off the coast of Virginia. The drone will try to land by deploying a tailhook that will catch a wire aboard the ship and bring it to a quick stop, just like normal fighter jets do. The maneuver is known as an arrested landing and has previously only been done by the drone on land at Patuxent River. Landing on a ship that is constantly moving while navigating through turbulent air behind the aircraft carrier is seen as a more difficult maneuver.

"Your grandchildren and great grandchildren and mine will be reading about this historic event in their history books. This is not trivial, nor is it something that came lightly," said Rear Adm. Mat Winter, the Navy's program executive officer for unmanned aviation and strike weapons.

Just like a traditional airplane, if the landing has to be called off for any reason at the last second, it can perform a touch-and-go maneuver. It performed nine such maneuvers in May, when it also took off from an aircraft carrier for the first time.

The X-47B will never be put into operational use, but it will help Navy officials develop future carrier-based drones. Those drones could begin operating by 2020, according to Winter. Four companies are expected to compete for a contract to design the future unmanned aircraft, which will be awarded in Fiscal Year 2014.

There's more at the link, but not a huge discussion of the implications of remotely-, or even computer-piloted, aircraft to be used in combat.

By: Brant

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