A US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-funded flight test of an automatic control system has demonstrated that a sub-scale model of a Boeing F/A-18 Hornet fighter could continue to fly and land autonomously, despite having lost about 60% of its starboard wing.

The flight test, held at the US Army's Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, was part of DARPA's extreme control concepts programme, being conducted by its tactical technology office.

The 60% loss test was to simulate battle damage and in-flight failure and was preceded by a flight with almost half of the wing having been lost.

A similar DARPA-sponsored demonstration in April 2007 saw an aileron ejected in-flight from the sub-scale F/A-18.

In the latest test the model Hornet used its internal inertial navigation system and global positioning system references to land safely.

"This demonstration highlights the challenge and importance of autonomously controlling and landing a [manned or unmanned] aircraft that has sustained catastrophic damage or failure in flight," says David Vos, control technologies' senior director at Rockwell Collins.

DARPA's extreme control concepts programme manager, Lt Col Jim McCormick, was unavailable for comment.

Collins' automatic supervisory adaptive control technology, acquired from the recently purchased Athena Technologies, was the system used to react to the damaged aircraft's altered configuration.

Source: Flight International