History Is Made As UCAS Lands On U.S. Carrier

By Amy Butler abutler@aviationweek.com
Source: AWIN First
July 10, 2013
Credit: Amy Butler

The U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator number two achieved aviation history July 10 as the first-ever tailless, stealthy unmanned aircraft to conduct an arrested landing onboard an aircraft carrier.

The landing helps to “make sure that we keep the technological edge” as other nations, such as China, work to build stealthy aircraft and unmanned vehicles, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said during a press conference on the carrier shortly after the landing.

Though a significant historical achievement, the event underscored that the $1.4 billion UCAS program is experimental as operators quickly implemented a workaround after experiencing an on-deck difficulty after the first landing.

The aircraft conducted two landings, the first of which snagged the number 3 wire as planned onboard the USS George H.W. Bush off the coast of Norfolk, Va., just after midday. The second followed a catapult takeoff from the deck and touched down with the number 2 wire, also as planned.

Both landings appeared nominal, according to Rear Adm. Mat Winter, program executive officer for unmanned aviation and strike platforms. The UCAS took off from NAS Patuxent River, Md., escorted by two F/A-18s.

Prior to the first landing, the UCAS was ordered by the landing systems operator (LSO) on the carrier deck to conduct a go-around, a procedure used to wave a pilot off. The LSO uses a digital interface to relay such commands to the UCAS, and the system’s software translates those commands for use by the aircraft.

One anomaly experienced on the mission occurred as the UCAS operators attempted to hand off control of the air vehicle from an on-deck operator, who uses an arm-mounted device to taxi the aircraft, to a mission operator in the aircraft’s hangar. On the first attempt, the blue light — a signal of a successful handoff — did not illuminate. Instead, operators got a red light, indicating the handoff was not successful.

The handoff is needed so that the mission operator in the hangar can monitor and control the aircraft once it is away from the deck.

The deck crew quickly shifted to a backup arm-mounted deck controller, achieved a blue light signaling a successful control handoff and prepared for the catapult takeoff, according to Capt. Jaime Engdahl, Navy UCAS program manager.

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