UCAS Lands On Deck, Though Headwinds Persist

By Amy Butler
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

A separate anomaly cropped up earlier as UCAS operators attempted to hand off control of the air vehicle from an on-deck operator—which uses an arm-mounted device to taxi the aircraft—to a mission operator in the aircraft's hangar after the first landing. The blue light, a signal of a successful handoff, did not illuminate; instead, operators saw a red light, indicating a faulty one.

The deck crew quickly worked with a backup arm-mounted deck controller, achieving proper handoff, according to Engdahl. The backup system was there to ensure the aircraft was not stuck on deck for a long period of time, which would be a problem in an active air wing where aircraft are constantly rotating on deck.

The arrested landing is the capstone and most difficult test for UCAS, following May's first catapult launch. The landing is more complex, as the aircraft's autonomous software and precision-relative GPS must compensate for the motion of the carrier, says Rear Adm. Mat Winter, Navy program executive officer for unmanned aviation and strike weapons. The next at-sea trial for the UCAS is scheduled for July 15, during which one of the two demonstrators will attempt more landings.

However, the air vehicles are likely nearing the end of their flight careers. Both are slated to take permanent residence at naval museums, one in Pensacola, Fla., and the other at NAS Patuxent River, Md., Winter says. Until the program formally wraps up at year-end, he says the Navy will continue to assess whether the aircraft could be used for other projects.

The UCAS is a precursor to the Navy's Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike program through which the Navy plans to buy at least two “orbits”—the ability to conduct two, separate 24/7 operations from a ship—for $150 million or less, not including the technology demonstration price.

Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and General Atomics are all vying for the contract, and the number of aircraft sold will vary depending on how the contractors design an orbit. Air vehicles proposed by each are being reviewed by the Navy through a nine-month preliminary design review phase.

In parallel, the Navy plans to issue a draft request for proposals in August to kick off the competition for the aircraft contract. A formal request for proposals is expected in the second quarter of fiscal 2014 with a downselect by October 2013.

Watch videos of the UCAS arrested landings on our Ares blog at ow.ly/mS64L

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