The Navy's X-47B drone becomes the first unmanned aircraft to launch from an aircraft carrier.

The Navy’s X-47B drone becomes the first unmanned aircraft to launch from an aircraft carrier.

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.


  • M&S

    Until we know how the landing system works, and specifically whether it is using the JPALS or the old ACLS with what types of secondary optical channel ‘homing’ onto keyed Fresnel lights or deck markings, it is highly provocative to issue statements such as-

    “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.”
    This is an oversized drone whose autopilot does nothing before it is told to.
    At it’s most primitive, having been _ordered_ to land, such an aerodynamic smart projectile turns towards the point behind the ship where it’s software tells it to detect the gather signal from an Automatic Carrier Landing System and having done so, it hooks it’s flight controls into a homing mode by which it is essentially flying a command guidance beam in whose glideslope cone it ‘bounces’, with ever smaller allowable deviations, like water down a funnel. Until the airframe hits the deck and the hook catches and the robot uses automatic deceleration sensors to throttle down and wait for a deck handler with a radio control device akin to an X-Box remote to come put the leash on it’s dog collar.
    Whoohoo! Not.
    SAMs like Roland and Rapier and the SA-2 have been doing exactly the same thing since the 1960s with no one commenting about how clever they are becoming.
    In it’s most advanced state, the UCAV autopilot is ‘aware’ of an object in space (the 19″ scatter margin around a given wire in the cross deck pendant) as a series of numeric coordinate points relayed to it via datalink, relative to it’s own known position via GPS satellite feed. From these two starting points, _When Told To Do So_, it activates a landing routine which solves the differential equation, as a scalar set of four dimensional variables with the time modifier acting to add back numbers to carrier location based on the ships movements away from the UCAVs desired touch down point.
    The UCAV autopilot then modifies it’s trajectory as flight path to ‘continue the count down’ to a given location predictor where it’s coordinates and the carrier’s coordinates match, as hook to arrestor wire, and hey presto whaddya know, ten seconds later that’s exactly what happens.
    Or not.
    In which case the autopilot does the ‘else’ portion of an if:then logic statement, climbing out, cleaning up and assuming a neutral orbit point as it again waits for ‘the word’ to try again or go back to the nearest base (or ditch in the ocean if none are nearby and it’s out of fuel).
    This is equivalent to what the JDAM guided bomb does in AMSTE mode. And again, nobody is talking about how Terminator like the thru weather capabilities of a pin the tail on the donkey piece of ordnance is.
    Because, Golly Wally, it’s just not that smart.
    We are _not talking HK here people_.
    Don’t be gulled into making assumptions that just aren’t there.
    Real AI requires an _ontologic topology_ as a mapped awareness of the environment around it in which it can perceive objects as symbol values that are -intrinsic to and separate from- sensory input stimulus and so can be plucked or placed or remissioned as a function of the artifints internally willed desire to change reality.
    The code in the X-47B is closer to an IPod’s level of sophistication, if that. It is DECADES away from having any kind of intelligent flight capability. Nor does it need to. Being little more than a flying Expert System able to do ONE thing, better than a human, without the slightest conceptual notion that it is even doing so.
    In this, it is no different than the autopilot in a manned F/A-18 landing the jet in ACLS mode. Or a BGM-109 Blk.IV Tactical Tomahawk receiving target coordinate updates.
    Because we tell them to.

    • Chernenko

      You make the x-47b sound like its a Pioneer from 80’s. Give the program some credit. Now that being said the navy has been operating drones or UAVs for a long time. They should be a lot farther along in having credible drones. The fire scout and this x-47b should be engaged in a series of test and trials non-stop. Otherwise it’s like the navy is playing roulette there putting chips down on black and red, either invest heavily in one or were going to end up with f35c that don’t work right, and carrier drones that don’t like to land on carriers.

  • ericPamler

    What a waste of a comment Kurt….Do you ever read a report and just shut up!

  • Darsan54


  • FranciscodAnconia

    Not to worry. Most Naval Aviators can’t do any better than two outa three when it comes to getting back on the boat.


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