August 09, 2012
Credit: Credit: Boeing
LAS VEGAS — Boeing’s H-6U Unmanned Little Bird (ULB) has completed autonomous takeoffs and landings from a ship as the unmanned helicopter is readied for a French navy demonstration late this year.
The demonstrator aircraft completed 14 landings and takeoffs from a leased commercial oil-rig tender in 20 hr. of flight tests off Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in July.
Two safety pilots were on board, one watching for air traffic and the other monitoring the landings and takeoffs, but the helicopter operated autonomously under the command of a ground control station operator on the ship’s bridge.
Boeing had previously landed the ULB on a moving platform towed by a truck and on a pitching platform simulating deck motion in conditions up to sea state 4. Conditions for the sea trial were calm, with a maximum of only plus or minus 3 deg. pitch and plus or minus 6 deg. roll.
Trials were conducted at vessel speeds up to 10 kt. and wind over deck up to 10 kt. from different directions.
Landings use a differential GPS system that exchanges the relative positions of the helicopter and ship over a data link, and software that allows the aircraft to anticipate deck motion, and is accurate to within 10 cm, Boeing says.
Boeing has two ULB demonstrators, a 3,100-lb. gross-weight aircraft based on a commercial MD Helicopters MD 530, and a 4,700-lb. gross-weight aircraft based on the MH-6M Mission Enhanced Little Bird.
One of the helicopters has been shipped to France for the automatic deck-landing sea trials on a navy La Fayette-class frigate late this year, led by prime contractor Thales and shipbuilder DCNS.