Thursday, November 15, 2012

Navigating in tight spots

The US Navy is about to enter upon carrier deck trials of the Northrop Grumman X-47B technology demonstrator (shown below - image courtesy of Northrop Grumman).  It's an unmanned, stealthy strike and reconnaissance platform, designed to demonstrate that UAV's can successfully operate from the cramped, challenging confines of carrier decks without needing pilots.  If the trials are successful, a successor aircraft is likely to enter service during the next decade.

Part of the challenge facing the X-47B is to make its way around a crowded flight deck, moving around other aircraft and obstacles without running into them, turning its potentially damaging jet exhaust towards people and delicate equipment, etc.  To do this, a strap-on aircraft direction device is worn by a crew member, who uses it to issue instructions to the UAV as to where and how to move.  It's known as the Control Display Unit (CDU).  Here's a video clip demonstrating how it'll work.

The X-47B goes to sea next year to commence carrier deck trials.  This technology is a critical component in making them work.



Will Brown said...

Flight deck directors (Aviation Boatswains Mates or Yellow Shirts for their distinctively colored jerseys) have always been responsible for "moving [aircraft] around other aircraft and obstacles" and traditionally do so via a series of hand and arm signals to the pilot. The only real change I can see in the video is that now they will activate motion and direction changes directly to the aircraft via the video controller strapped to their forearms. In my now rather dated experience, I suspect todays Yellow Shirts would just as soon do the same to the piloted birds as well (pilots being notorious for focusing their attention on mission-oriented cockpit controls adjustments instead of observantly watching for flightdeck directions in their turn).

As to turning its potentially damaging jet exhaust towards people and delicate equipment, etc., that's why all the rest of us running around on the roof got hazardous duty pay. In such a constrained environment it is simply impossible to maneuver jet aircraft around under their own power and not have the exhaust be directed at pretty much everything else up there. It's just your job to compensate for that hazard (to yourself and the equipment in your charge), and a long list of others as well.

Old NFO said...

Will is correct, and another point, this is being done at Pax River with NO electronic hash like what occurs on a flight deck... I predict there WILL be problems!

Scott said...

Wonder how long before one of those flies into the ramp of a carrier?

No, I don't mean lands on the roof. I mean a ramp-strike, totalling the aircraft and bathing the aft end of the flight deck in flaming debris.

Anonymous said...

There's been considerable speculation in certain quarters re: when and where and how the next logical development in UAVs - production/deployment of vehicles capable of air-superiority profiles (air-to-air defense/attack), as opposed or in addition to observation, forward-fire-direction and/or limited air-to-ground attack - would take place. The X-47B looks like it is going to be the "first wave" of this development, although of course at this point this is a "baby step" in that direction/development.