Feeds

US navy's robot carrier plane building fast

Droid Top Gun to make deck landings in 2011

Intelligent flash storage arrays

The US Navy's new stealth robot carrier plane is now "structurally complete", according to its maker, and is now being fitted out with subsystems while software tests begin. The Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator (UCAS-D) is expected to make its first flight the year after next, and its first carrier deck landing in 2011.

"Once we get robust flight controls we will begin failure detection and accommodation testing, which is the real key to any unmanned aircraft," said Scott Winship, UCAS-D project chief at Northrop Grumman, talking to Flight International.

The UCAS-D robo carrier plane concept

Things were livelier when Maverick was around...

Although a firm decision by the US Navy to build UCAS-D was only reached a few months ago, the project is well advanced because Northrop are using a design developed during the earlier, cancelled US airforce/navy Joint UCAS programme.

"We're finishing a programme started seven years ago," Winship told Flight.

The $635m UCAS-D contract will see Northrop produce a brace of aircraft and - if successful - prove that they can operate from US Navy carriers, traditionally considered one of the more demanding flight environments for human-piloted jets.

If the project succeeds, one of the last major piloting feats will have been replicated by robot aircraft. Autonomous systems have already shown that they can perform landing, takeoff, fly missions and even do air to air refuelling.

Human passengers will probably always insist on having a human pilot up front. Anyway, an airliner wouldn't become a lot more efficient for having its pilots removed because it already has to carry hundreds of people. Robot airlines aren't on the cards any time soon.

But a pilot and his accompanying paraphernalia (ejection seat etc) are a noticeable load and a serious limiting factor for military aircraft. The human restricts potential time in the air and maximum G loads as well as payload. There is a real technical case for unmanned combat jets, especially autonomous ones which don't need a high-bandwidth comms link. But few machines get built unless people with money want them; and in this case a lot of the people with the money are pilots and see themselves as warriors. They would lose both identities, conceivably, if autonomous or remotely-operated combat jets became widespread.

UCAS-D has a good chance of succeeding technically - whether or not it will usher in a new dawn remains to be seen. The Flight report is here. ®

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.