Navy aviation tests combined unmanned, manned operations

The major question mark is whether a drone aircraft can react and perform quickly and safely in an emergency situation.
By Brooks Hays   |   Aug. 19, 2014 at 9:25 AM

NORFOLK, Va., Aug. 19 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy is testing whether or not drones can be safely and effectively incorporated into manned flight operations. To find out, Navy aviation recently paired its unmanned X-47B plane with its manned F/A-18 Hornet in a series of short combined maneuvers.

For Navy flight operators, the major question mark is whether a drone aircraft can react and perform quickly and safely in an emergency situation, when directives are issued on the fly and movements must be quickly improvised.

On Sunday morning, the X-47B proved capable of handling an emergency landing situation (also called an arrested landing), after being launched from the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier alongside a F/A-18. After an eight-minute flight, the drone craft quickly landed, folded its wings and taxied out of the landing area so that the Navy pilot could quickly land the Hornet in the wake of the X-47B's recovery landing.

"Today we showed that the X-47B could take off, land and fly in the carrier pattern with manned aircraft while maintaining normal flight deck operations," Capt. Beau Duarte, a program manager in the Navy's Unmanned Carrier Aviation office, said in a released statement. "This is key for the future Carrier Air Wing."

Over the next year, the Navy will continue to test the feasibility of combine manned and unmanned operations, performing more complex maneuvers. The USS Theodore Roosevelt currently calls the port of Norfolk, Virginia, its home, but it is expected to relocate to San Diego at some point in 2015.

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