ABOARD THE USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT — The U.S. Navy showcased what one senior officer said was the “sausage being made during test and evaluation” this past weekend as one of its Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) Demonstrators experienced an anomaly during a media tour aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
The anomaly was resolved quickly with a 90-min. reboot of the-built air vehicle, after which operators conducted a catapult launch and wave-off procedure before an arrested landing back on deck.
The service is two days into an “at-sea” period for a newly approved round of carrier trials designed to test the single-engine, stealthy X-47B’s performance in off-nominal conditions, such as high winds or off-axis winds over the carrier deck. Ultimately, officials are looking to evaluate performance at winds of 28-36 kt.
Though tail number 502 eventually flew, its first attempt was perturbed by a wireless communication problem between the on-deck controller’s arm-mounted CDU and the air vehicle. The aircraft taxied to the catapult as planned, based on commands by the controller, but operators were unable to command it to exceed flight idle power, which is required for takeoff. The crew switched out arm-mounted controllers to a backup and switched out the power supply on one, but they were still unable on the first attempt to suitably control the aircraft.
This prompted operators to surmise the fault was within the air vehicle itself, says Capt. Beau Duarte, UCAS program manager, who spoke to reporters in the hangar bay of the ship following the anomaly.
Operators had not encountered this problem before on previous detachments, Duarte said.
After resetting the aircraft, however, it performed as expected.
This aircraft flew aboard on Nov. 9 to begin its 11-day window for testing roughly 110 mi. off the coast of Virginia’s Wallops Island. On Nov. 10 it conducted two arrested landings, two wave-offs and six touch-and-gos on deck, says Rear Adm. Mat Winter, Navy program executive officer for unmanned aviation and strike weapons.
The X-47B is “still in its development, exploration and discovery mode,” Winter told reporters of the aborted first attempt for flight on Nov. 10.
The X-47B conducted flight trials this year, during which the complexity of testing was increased over time to include the first arrested landing in July, which was thought to be a graduation exercise.
However, some lawmakers have pushed for the Navy to continue collecting more data from testing through fiscal 2014. Thus, up to two more at-sea periods are planned through this fiscal year depending on the availability of a carrier to support the trials.
UCAS-D is a risk-reduction project to demonstrate the ability of a tailless, unmanned aircraft to integrate into carrier deck operations.
A draft request for proposals for the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Strike and Surveillance (Uclass) system is expected to be released next month, kicking off a competition likely to involve, Northrop Grumman, and . Ultimately, the Navy hopes to begin fielding at least one squadron of Uclass aircraft onboard an aircraft within the next five years. However, the competition has slipped, as the draft RFP was slated for release this fall.