Boeing is "very close" to having what it considers to be a competitive design for the US Navy's unmanned carrier launched surveillance and strike (UCLASS) aircraft programme, a top company official says.

The USN has not yet issued a request for proposal, but Chris Chadwick, president of Boeing's military aircraft division, says the company has a good idea of what the service's requirements might be. He says Boeing expects a solicitation later this summer.

Chadwick says the Boeing has learned from its X-45C/Phantom Ray design and from F/A-18 unmanned demonstration efforts.

"It's not a warmed-over X-45, but it has really learned from the X-45 and X-47 and the other unmanned products that we have," he says.

X-47B AV2 

 ©US Navy

Chadwick says Boeing has learned a lot from observing the Northrop Grumman X-47B Unmanned Combat Aircraft System-Demonstrator.

"All of that is flowing into what our design is," Chadwick says.

Earlier in March, Charlie Nava, the USN's UCLASS programme manager, said that the technology from the X-47B--which includes government-owned hardware, software and aircraft-ship interfaces--will be harvested for the UCLASS effort. Nava said that the service would allow all potential contractors access to that information.

According to Nava, the USN aims to have the UCLASS in limited service or at least in operational assessment by 2020.

Chadwick says Boeing's greatest advantage in designing is an unmanned carrier aircraft actually comes from the company's decades of experience in developing shipboard platforms.

"It's got to be able to land. It would be nice if the hook caught the cable," he says. "We've been living off the deck for 30 years, so that is a big piece of this."

Boeing is also working to reduce the number of the people it takes to operate an unmanned aircraft.

Source: Flight International