Before the Navy sends any new aircraft to sea for carrier trials, the use a land based catapult to identify any potential problems. Here’s the unmanned X-47B taking it’s first cat shot ashore.
The video doesn’t specify where this was, but it was probably the naval air engineering facility at Lakehurst, NJ. And note that while the landing may seem a little… firm… that’s normal. Carrier based aircraft, unlike Air Force or civilian aircraft, don’t normally flare just before touchdown. Instead, just as in a carrier approach, they fly a constant speed, angle of attack, and descent rate all the way to touchdown.
Also, a large part of carrier suitability testing is just figuring out how to move an aircraft around the flight and hangar decks of a carrier. Here’s the X-47B being hoisted aboard for early tests. Since it is unmanned, it introduces some new twists into what is normally a fairly straightforward testing environment.
Normally, movement of aircraft on the deck of a carrier is directed by “yellow shirts” using hand and arm signals to give taxi directions to the pilot of an aircraft. Obviously, since there’s no pilot on the UCAS, that needs a little tweaking. In fact, one approach has been to teach the UCAS to actually recognize these signals. But that hasn’t come to pass yet, so the UCAS will be taxied via a joystick controller.
Any time you try something for the first time on a carrier, it’s an excellent opportunity to really frab things up, so they’ll start with an empty flight deck, peirside, work their way up to an empty flight deck at see, and eventually work up to more crowded, faster paced environments. And all this is probably before they ever attempt actually landing one on a carrier.
Unlike most drones that have human operators remotely piloting them, particularly for launch and landing, the X-47B is a truly autonomous aircraft, in that it will perform its own takeoffs, and carrier landings as well. Auto-land has long been a capability for manned aircraft, particularly the F/A-18, but is rarely used, as crews still need to maintain their proficiency, and you don’t get that by letting the computer do all the work.
But every UCAS approach will be on auto. It shouldn’t be too terribly challenging during good weather and calm seas, but it remains to be seen how well it will work in foul weather with a pitching deck.
Via War News Updates.