AUVSI: The Navy’s experimental carrier stealth drone, the X-47B, would have made a third landing on the USS George H.W. Bush last month but for the fact the plane knew it was doing a test and decided to waive itself off, Adm. Mathias Winter said here this morning.
Think about that. This is a plane that essentially flies itself and made a decision based on its mission requirements and the state of its instruments and redirected itself to its base, just as a pilot might have — if he was prudent enough.
Winter told me the Navy had found no systemic problem with the aircraft and is still examining the faulty circuit board that was removed from the plane after it landed at Patuxent River, where it is based. But he made clear Northrop Grumman’s X-47B would have landed on the carrier if it had not been engaged in a test flight.
“Absolutely. If it had not been a test environment it would have landed,” he said. The plane’s backup systems were operating normally and the plane could have made a safe landing on the carrier, he said.
In terms of the X-47B’s operational successor, now known as UCLASS, Winter said the Navy is ”in the process of preparing” a draft RFP that will be released in September, followed by an industry day in October. Then the Navy should issue a full RFP in the second quarter of fiscal 2014. However, this RFP is not for the full system. It is only for the aircraft. The aircraft contract should be issued in the first quarter of fiscal 2015.
One interesting facet to this competition. The Navy is the lead system integrator for all control systems and software, Winter noted. But the companies likely to bid – Boeing, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Northrop — will still design and provide the software that flies each aircraft and provide weapons software.