Check-out flights of a subscale autonomous Boeing F/A-18 Hornet have started this month in preparation for damage control testing where 80% of the wing and sections of the vertical and horizontal stabilisers will be deliberately severed from the airframe.
For the remainder of this year the check-out flights will continue and in 2010 the damage control tests will occur. These damage control flights are part of phase three of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) programme called extreme control concepts. During its phase two in 2008 a subscale F/A-18 had 60% of its wing severed during flight. The aircraft successfully stabilised itself and landed.
The programme's third phase will also see acrobatics performed by a damaged scale-model F/A-18 because such manoeuvres are the basis for dog fighting. The acrobatics while damaged are made possible through "all-attitude" control software technology.
"DARPA wants us to test it until it crashes. We are going to transition the technology to a production [unmanned air vehicle]," says Rockwell Collins' RCI Control Technologies senior director David Vos, speaking to Flightglobal at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International's Unmanned Systems North America 2009 conference.
Discussions with the UAV manufacturer have been ongoing during the course of the programme, according to Vos. Asked what class of UAV it was or who the manufacturer is, he declined to say.