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Navy awards four contracts to develop carrier drone aircraft

The U.S. Navy has announced that it has awarded four development contracts for developing designs to compete for the Unmanned Carrier Launch Airborne Surveillance and Strike Air Vehicle, aka UCLASS.

Boeing, General Atomics Aeronautics Systems, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman were awarded contracts of $15 million each. The contract announcement says that the preliminary design review assessment is designed to support a UCLASS system able "to enhance aircraft carrier/air wing operations by providing a responsive, world-wide presence via an organic, sea-based unmanned aerial system, with persistent intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting, and strike capabilities."

The X-47B makes its first carrier landing

Naval Air Systems command officials have stated that the competition for the final airframe design is expected to begin sometime after January 2014. UCLASS will be an operational jet aircraft with mission of carrying out persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. The aircraft will also be able to engage in strike missions at ranges of up to 2,000 nautical miles.

The United States Navy has been working with carrier-based drone aircraft for quite some time in the form of Northrop Grumman’s X-47B. The X-47B made its first carrier landing back in July 2013 aboard the USS George H.W. Bush. The demonstration was the first time an unmanned autonomous aircraft landed on a U.S. carrier.

The X-47B program has already produced two test aircraft with the first carrier launch having occurred on May 14, 2014. The landing in July completed the test program requirements. 

Source: Defense News

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Tales of future past
By docinct on 8/19/2013 1:41:07 PM , Rating: 2
I think it's amazing that the Navy had a successful landing on a carrier (in May 2013) before take offs (which will occur in July 2014)

RE: Tales of future past
By danjw1 on 8/19/2013 2:12:20 PM , Rating: 2
Why? It takes off from land, then lands on a carrier that is offshore. What is hard figure out about that?

I believe that the UAVs will only launch from the new Ford class carriers. These will have magnetic catapults, as opposed to current carriers with steam catapults. The magnetic catapults will can have the force adjusted for launching different types of aircraft.

RE: Tales of future past
By sorry dog on 8/19/2013 4:31:51 PM , Rating: 2
Steam powered cats are most certainly adjustable as well. While the electric catapult is more precise, the advantage has more to due with operation and maintenance.

RE: Tales of future past
By Nfarce on 8/19/2013 5:31:32 PM , Rating: 3
The electromagnetic catapult is also easier on the nose gear and hence entire airframe structure due to its more linear and smoother application of power. It will reduce maintenance costs on the aircraft.

RE: Tales of future past
By Nightbird321 on 8/19/2013 2:27:34 PM , Rating: 2
They can take off from a regular airfield and land on a carrier and get a heli to airlift it back.

Taking off from a carrier might require both modifications of the catapult system and designing a linking system on the UAV to match. Modern fighter jets are much heavier and have higher stall speeds then these wide-winged UAVs, so I can't imagine taking off being a problem once accommodations are in place. Even the landing is probably no more than a testing of the remote control system, again due to the low stall speed.

RE: Tales of future past
By marvdmartian on 8/20/2013 8:46:29 AM , Rating: 2
Frankly, I'll be amazed when the US Navy has fighter pilots that look like this!

RE: Tales of future past
By shogdo on 8/21/2013 4:07:16 AM , Rating: 2
uuuhhh... where are you getting this? Take off was demo'ed first, it has been tested already. The plane was air-lifted (if I remembered correctly) to a carrier, launched on catapult and landed at an airbase nearby.
It happened in May 2013, then carrier landing took place in July 2013. Check wikipedia and look for videos in youtube.
That's why navy is awarding contracts for further development, because the aircraft has demonstrated takeoff and landing on current operating aircraft carrier (I forgot which).

Here comes Star Craft
By Rage187 on 8/19/2013 10:48:19 AM , Rating: 2
I see a Protoss Carrier in our future.

RE: Here comes Star Craft
By WoWCow on 8/19/2013 10:57:14 AM , Rating: 2

So we see some giant zeppelin in the sky, carrying dozens of drone fighters all managed by some Korean fellow with over 200 APM.

Or the Europeans, I don't think America has any competent Starcraft players.

Now whether or not a giant zeppelin in the sky carrying air deliverable drones is feasible is an entirely different question.

RE: Here comes Star Craft
By idiot77 on 8/19/2013 11:37:53 AM , Rating: 3
No worries. When the bodies start flying the US will be ahead of the curve. We never really good at "practice" anyhow. It's all about game time.

May 14, 2014
By kwrzesien on 8/19/2013 11:26:43 AM , Rating: 3
I for one welcome this timely update

$15 mil
By hellokeith on 8/19/2013 2:21:14 PM , Rating: 2
were awarded contracts of $15 million each

So the SecNavy and Admirals will get 4 steak dinners ;)

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