The X-47B drone during an earlier test last year.
Robots may be the future of war, but for now they’re going to have to share the battlefield with humans and human-operated vehicles. That’s especially tricky in the tight confines of a
In fact, the goal for today’s flight test on the USS Theodore Roosevelt was for the two aircraft to take off within 90 seconds of one another. Likewise, they both had to land within a minute and a half. (I’m still awaiting word on whether they achieved these goals). On takeoff, that means having the second aircraft so close behind the first that it must shelter behind enormous metal shields called “jet blast deflectors,” when then drop so it can taxi forward onto the catapult. On landing, it means the first aircraft must unhook itself from the arrestor cables and taxi out of the way as fast as possible. That’s tough, but it’s the kind of tempo required to hurl a fighter squadron into the air for a strike and bring them back aboard quickly when they’re running low of fuel. If drones slow things down, they can’t be used alongside manned aircraft in any kind of urgent situation.
The whole point is to integrate unmanned aircraft seamlessly into the regular rhythm of the existing air wing. So the manned F-18 used for today’s test had “no special equipment, no upgrades,” said Capt.
The UCAS drone did get upgraded for the occasion, with new software and mechanisms that allow it to detach its tailhook from the arrestor wire, fold its wings, and trundle swiftly out of the way of the next plane to land. But the demonstrator aircraft still does not have JPALS, the in-development Joint Precision Approach and Landing System being developed to guide both manned and unmanned aircraft in the future. That means not all of today’s lessons-learned will transfer to the Navy’s first operational carrier drone, Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike system (UCLASS), whose design is becoming increasingly controversial on
Most Popular Stories
- Doctor Who Christmas Episode Begins Production
- HCL America Adding 1,200 IT Jobs
- Medical Mfg. Jobs Coming to Dayton
- Longtime Unemployed to Get Help in Las Vegas
- Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury on Previously Unreleased Queen Cut
- SpaceX Aims for Predawn Launch on Saturday
- Women Key to Democratic Party: Clinton
- U.S. Chamber Caught Up in Tax Inversion Question
- Feds Won't Say How Many Border Crossers Jailed
- Christie Didn't Order Bridge Shut Down, Feds Say