The US Navy has landed an aircraft using software for the Northrop Grumman unmanned combat air system demonstration (UCAS-D) programme, due to start flying onto aircraft carriers in 2013.
A navy Boeing F/A-18D, using software developed for UCAS-D, made several approaches and at least one full-stop landing on the USS Eisenhower, a Nimitz-class carrier. Special equipment was installed on the carrier last year to transmit precision GPS information to the aircraft and control consoles in a squadron ready room. The landing signal officer, who normally relays voice and visual commands to approaching pilots, maintained his advisory role.
© Northrop Grumman
Trials of equipment not necessary for landing were also tested by fly-bys using a modified Hawker Beechcraft King Air, which flew over the Eisenhower but did not touch down.
"Using a manned surrogate platform to test the unmanned systems avionics and software gives us an extra layer of safety as we test the X-47B software to ensure that it responds correctly and safely to different flight conditions," said Glenn Colby, aviation/ship integration lead for the US Naval Air Systems Command.
Northrop's UCAS-D is known formally as the X-47B; the 'A' model was developed for a cancelled Defense Advanced Research Programs Agency effort, which resulted in both the X-47 and the Boeing X-45.