PATUXENT RIVER, Md. (NNS) -- The Navy's Unmanned Aerial System program office, and the Vertical Takeoff and Landing Tactical Unmanned Air Vehicle (VTUAV) Program completed a major developmental milestone as the VTUAV system completed nine autonomous landings aboard USS Nashville (LPD 13). One air vehicle performed the initial tests with three landings Jan. 16, and a second air vehicle was launched Jan. 17 to complete the testing.
This is the first time a major defense autonomous UAV acquisition program has completed a landing aboard a fleet vessel.
On day one of the testing at 11:51 a.m., the green light was established as all systems were "go" on land and at sea. Under the command of the shore-based ground control station (GCS), the RQ-8A Fire Scout lifted off from the shore and began flying its autonomous route to the ship. The shore-based GCS handed off control to the shipboard GCS, and after establishing telemetry data, a series of close approaches to the ship were conducted. In accordance with the test plan script, the Fire Scout came aboard Nashville for the first autonomous landing at 2:42 p.m.
Two other landings were conducted to gather further data before the aircraft was returned to shore control.
"This event has provided much-needed data for how autonomous systems will operate in the future." said Capt. Paul Morgan, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) program manager. "This is the bedrock of future autonomous systems, of which VTUAV is the forerunner. We gather data every time this system flies, and are on the downward slope of the learning curve. This is an exciting time."
In this test operation, the VTUAV system consisted of one air vehicle, one shore-based GCS, one ship-based GCS, the Tactical Control System software, and an Unmanned Common Automatic Recovery System (UCARS) precision landing system, plus associated test related telemetry equipment. In its fleet version, the system will add a Tactical Common Data Link and a secure landing grid system.
The air vehicle used for this event was a developmental article from a previous acquisition phase, an RQ-8A. The VTUAV program is currently producing MQ-8B variants, with more capability for payloads and performance.
The test was designed to exercise those areas of the system that are maturing and provide feedback into the design loop as the baseline software build for the MQ-8B is finalized.
"While this is a great event for the UAS community, it is on schedule for the VTUAV program" said Cmdr. Rob Murphy, VTUAV team lead. "In the past, systems had been treating the ship as a graduation exercise, and we recognized the need for early data collection and input. We have already gathered a lot of data as to vehicle and system command performance, plus a lot of lessons learned while operating in the shipboard environment."
The VTUAV system plans further shipboard tests this year in the May/June timeframe, as funding allows. The production MQ-8B airframe is planning a first flight for August. Fire Scout initial operational capability is planned for FY08.
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