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Video: F/A-18E Flight Deck Disaster Averted

by John Reed on October 5, 2011

Watch the video below to see an F/A-18E Super Hornet narrowly avoid hitting two crewmen who are taking a very badly-timed stroll across a carrier flight deck as the jet comes in for a landing late last month. Luckily, someone alerted the pilot to the oblivious crewmen’s presence on the ship’s landing strip and he was able to wave off his landing.

While some might wonder how those two sailors got in the way of a landing jet, this begs a bigger question; as Steve Trimble asks, how will the Navy deal with situations like this when UAVs become a common presence on flight decks in the coming years?

We’ve all known that researchers have been focusing on getting drones to automatically sense and avoid other aircraft for years now. However, as the Navy moves ahead with the X-47B Unmanned Carrier Air System program, its engineers are also working to ensure that drones can avoid last-minute runway obstructions — just like the Super Hornet driver did.

Last summer, the Navy did at-sea tests of the technology that will allow the X-47 and follow on drones like the UCLASS to hopefully do exactly what the F/A-18E did when those sailors crossed its path.

Here’s a little bit of what we wrote about the Navy’s autonomous drone landing system tech last summer:

“Once he’s on his approach, we actually take control of the aircraft via the systems we have installed as part of the demo and actually the aircraft is controlled by flight [rules] we put in place, all the way down to trap,” said Don Blottenberger,the Navy’s UCAS-D deputy principal program manager during a phone call with reporters this morning. “There is no remote control of the aircraft, there is no pilot control of the aircraft; we’ve given it instructions and it executes those instructions.”

Just to make it clear, Blottenberger added:

“There is no remote control, meaning there is no joystick, there’s no one that’s flying this aircraft from the carrier, we give it commands via the network we have in place … tying-in with existing carrier systems and then the aircraft executes those commands.”

The system, which uses precision-GPS navigation data transmitted over Rockwell Collins’ Tactical Targeting Network Technology (which I thought was defunct), allows the air traffic controllers, air boss and landing signals officer to tell the plane to enter the approach and perform all the necessary adjustments in heading, altitude and speed necessary to perform a trap. In the final phase of the approach, the LSO can even order the jet to wave off using a terminal that has been modified to communicate with an unmanned jet, according to NAVAIR officials.

Click through the jump for the video.

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