Small Northrop Unit Pursues New Manned, Unmanned Work
By Amy Butler
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology
The Sandstorm/Longshot can perform 100 landings for the price of one by a Reaper, he says. Today, pilots train for launch and recovery using actual Predators and Reapers, causing substantial wear and tear on the platforms. Northrop's vision is to sell services to the Air Force to qualify more experienced launch-and-recovery pilots by providing them with more stick time on the Sandstorm/Longshot system than they would receive in current training.
The Internet-based model would allow for training at various locations, and a safety pilot is always present with the Sandstorm to take control of the aircraft in the event of a student error or loss of Internet connection.
Purdy argues that actual hardware is needed to teach launch-and-recovery operations because simulators cannot properly emulate the environment, including latency of controls for remote operations. This latency, or delay, was a contributing factor in many accidents because pilots tend to over-command the stick if they do not see instant feedback on the screen when operating the UAS; thus, they can run off a runway or descend too quickly while landing.
Northrop Grumman officials say the technology is applicable to other UAS fleets because it enables operators to program in the flight characteristics of aircraft such as the Hunter UAS or a bevy of Israeli models sold globally.
Operationally Responsive Systems, which is spearheading these projects, has quietly been supporting classified customers and their manned aircraft for 21 years, says Kubit. It also has worked on mission systems for the Army's Guardrail aircraft and a variety of platforms from business jets to single-engine aircraft. This unit spearheaded Northrop Grumman's failed bid to win the Army's Enhanced Medium-Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System contract. Because of the types of activities it pursues, Operationally Responsive Systems has remained largely shrouded in secrecy.
However, the unit as well as similar divisions of its major competitors—L-3 Communications, Sierra Nevada and Boeing (with the recent win of the Enhanced Medium-Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System, or Emarss, contract)—has become more visible partly due to the expansion of potential markets for their respective products.