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

By Amy Butler abutler@aviationweek.com
Source: AWIN First

Though not planned, the quick shift to the backup controller validated the modeling and planning leading up to the test. The backup system was there to ensure the aircraft was not stuck on deck for a long period of time, which would be a significant problem in an active air wing where aircraft are constantly landing and taking off from the deck.

The arrested landing is the capstone event and most difficult test for the demonstration program. The first catapult takeoff occurred in May, after which operators conducted more takeoffs and touch and go’s prior to returning to Patuxent River for more work ashore in advance of the landing trials.

However, the landing is more complex because the aircraft’s autonomous software and precision guidance system must accommodate the motion of the carrier on the sea, Winter says. This guidance system allows for the aircraft to know its precise location relative to the ship in preparation for the landing.

The aircraft’s at-sea period on the Bush is slated to end July 16. Program officials hope to achieve at least one more landing prior to the UCAS returning to Patuxent River, Winter says.

Winter says that once air vehicle 2 returns to Patuxent River, operators will sift through the arrested landing test data to see if any more flight tests are needed.

The air vehicles are, however, likely almost finished with their flight careers and both are slated to take permanent residence at naval museums, one in Pensacola, Fla., and the other at Patuxent River, Winter says.

UCAS is a precursor to the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (Uclass) program. Through Uclass, the Navy plans to buy at least two “orbits” — or the ability to conduct two separate 24/7 operations from a ship — for use at sea. The number of aircraft per orbit could vary depending on the different designs offered by various contractors.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus says affordability is a key requirement for Uclass. Winter says the Navy plans to buy the first two orbits for $150 million or less; that figure does not include the technology demonstration price.

Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and General Atomics are all vying for the Uclass contract. Air vehicles designed by each are currently being reviewed by the Navy through a nine-month preliminary design review phase.

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