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Video: Unmanned Little Bird Lands on a Moving Truck

by John Reed on November 21, 2011

Happy Monday, everyone. Let’s start this short week right with this video of an unmanned version of Boeing’s Little Bird chopper landing on the back of a moving flatbed truck. As you know, the Little Bird is one of the military’s smallest helos. Images of special operators being dropped off by Little Birds in the middle of narrow city streets have become ubiquitous.

Boeing has been working on fielding the unmanned version of the chopper that can be used to do almost all the missions a manned little bird can, ISR, light strike even cargo hauling for years now. Heck we’ve seen Lockheed and Kaman team up to deliver an unmanned version of the K-MAX light helo to the Marines for resupply duty in Afghanistan.

The drone-chopper in the video below is using a THALES-built automatic landing system that allows it to sense how far away it is from the truck’s moving deck .

Drone Choppers for France:

Now why does the unmanned chopper need to land on moving targets? Because Boeing is developing the chopper for use by the French Navy, where it will be operated from ships in a similar way the U.S. Navy flies soon-to-be-armed MQ-8 Fire Scout drone helos from its ships. (I heard Boeing execs mention this project during a briefing at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference in Washington in September and it piqued my interest then.) The Little Bird is set to conduct sea trials aboard a French frigate in 2012.

Click through the jump for the video:

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Via Gizmodo and sUAS News

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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Armchair Idiot November 21, 2011 at 11:55 am

I'm wondering, is this just an initial test, or are landings going to be taking place at such a low speed?


@4FingrsOfBurbon November 21, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Ships don't go too fast…


Christopher Bloom November 21, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Ship don't go much faster than 25 MPH and usualy cruse as 15 MPH, and that truck was not going much over 20MPH.


jameb November 21, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Yea ok……

Keep the drivers …….

driving from the front seat…..


A. Nonymous November 21, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Nice! Now, do it again in a brownout…


nraddin November 21, 2011 at 5:45 pm

You know that electronic sensors are much better at seeing through a brownout right? Also they don't rely on just there eyes for position location (GPS and/or inertial navigation) which means they can land completely blind as long as they know where the pad is and where they where when they started


Thunder350 November 21, 2011 at 10:51 pm

In a brownout a pilot only has his instruments to rely on in order to land.. a computer could read and react to those readings much faster then a human could.


tribulationtime November 21, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Have it any advantage over maned?. (I mean that kind of UAV converted from maned)


brady November 22, 2011 at 9:44 pm

male lions are maned. piloted vehicles are manned.


nraddin November 21, 2011 at 3:21 pm

1) If you drop the pilots from this bird you can drop in 6 operators instead of 4 per bird.
2) If you cropped off the cockpit you could be looking at a weight savings of as much as 1500lbs (Including the loss of pilots). That's lots of extra fuel, munitions, or both.

Don't re-invent the wheel each time, take the birds you have, make a few airframe shape design changes (Remove the people box), put in some extra sensors and a extra cool flight computer and there is your drone.


Tim November 21, 2011 at 3:34 pm

i think one of the selling points was that its supposed to be remote controled and man controled. Not one or the other


Skeletor November 21, 2011 at 3:56 pm

You go first… having "flown" UAVs for the USAF I would not want to be on board one that went lost link to the control station, had a serious mechanical malfunction or two or had a situation that required quick thinking and lots of SA on the part of the flight crew…

Not saying UAVs should not be a reasonable part anyone's fleet but they really aren't the end all be all of future aviation…

Besides being a human on a UAV would entail significant radiation hazards believe it or not from the high power data link systems… when the links are on I would stay at least 25 feet away from any UAV with BLOS capability…


nraddin November 21, 2011 at 5:30 pm

UAV does not always mean teleoperated. In fact I am petty sure this is a demostation of autonomous flight not teleoperated flight (I could be wrong as it's short on detail). For example the now not new Boeing 777 has the ability to fly autonomous flight starting from standing start on any runway to an stop at the end of any other runway. I have been on a number of 777 flights that where operated just like this (I admit there was a pilot on board but he was completely unnecessary) The newer systems can even take directions via audio from Air traffic controllers. I could easily see a system that flies itself and takes verbal directions from operators on the ground or riding on the bird.


Skeletor November 21, 2011 at 11:39 pm

It works only when everything works and works as planned… I'm telling you the intersection of everything is fine, everything is going as planned, everything works and is as capable as advertised and everything is as easy as I said it would be is a very small corner of the world of aviation…

I doubt also taking out the flightcrew on the Little Bird to get two extra operators is the best route, just get a bigger helicopter… it sounds like desperation… besides, going UAV means BLOS bandwith with at least dual links for redundancy with human cargo (expensive, not necessarily easily attainable, and again carries its own cost and limitations), another sophisticated piece of equipment to buy, service and maintain – your ground control stations (LRE / MCE), you'll need a good swath of contractors to keep that LRE / MCE working and you'll actually need more flightcrew as UAVs fly much longer (that being their strongest trait)

Not completely dismissing UAVs – they do somethings WAY better than manned platforms but they are not without serious costs or limitations…


blight November 22, 2011 at 1:57 am

The only time I could see such a system in use is commonizing manned/unmanned platforms. Then if you need to move stuff with a pilot and have plenty of Common Helicopters sitting around, you won't be screwed like you would if you had no Manned Helicopters and only Unmanned Helicopters.

However, we would be paying good money for such a infrequently-occuring scenario. Good idea?

tribulationtime November 21, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Don´t enought. i think it can be a good tech demostrator of big aircraft unmaned control but i do not see utility. Nor more room as you see trough glass nor weight saves. I belive the only usefull thing about it´s put off pilots itself. Save money in training, tri-care, pension, pay and relatives. More ideas , please.


G$$ November 21, 2011 at 4:36 pm

I'm sure we have thousands of these from the Viet Nam era. Wonder why we can't just retrofit a bunch like this instead of spending billions on R&D for the newer heli drones they developing… Without pilots, seems like you could displace that weight with extra gear or fuel.


blight November 21, 2011 at 4:40 pm

That assumes the airframes still have enough hours on them to be worth refitting.


G$$ November 21, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Easier to beef 'em up than designing an entirely new airframe from the ground up. Look at our Fleet of B-52s…


LBirdPilot November 22, 2011 at 9:21 am

Totally different aircraft. H-6 is based on a 369FF with upgraded transmission, main rotor, and a lot bigger engine. Max gross weight is half again what the OH-6 was.


Curtis November 21, 2011 at 4:53 pm

I have a hard time imagining a navalized little bird doing the kind of spec ops things that we're used to seeing little birds doing.

But it would be useful for doing Cargo on demand, and running around with a dipping sonar and a torpedo or two.


major.rod November 21, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Actually little birds were very effectively used against Iran when they mined the Persian Gulf in the 80's. Little Birds took video of them doing it. Attacked the minelayers and fastboats and provided air support for special ops guys raiding oil well platforms.


Fred November 21, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Very cool, but what happens if hackers get a hold of these unmanned systems?



nraddin November 22, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Others have modded you down here, but I think you have a good point. We have to be worried that not only could ground control stations we compromised but so could the system we use to maintain and program the autonomous system be compromised. There is a lot of worry about counterfeit systems making it into the DOD/Govt supply chains. These items can be pre-compromised in all kinds of ways. Then there is the worry of the inside job (A very large number of hacks come from inside jobs, at one point it was estimated over 85%). There are a number of things that can be done to help prevent this, HASHing systems and other origin and integrity checks can be made on code and chips, but it had to be done very thoroughly and regularly to be useful at all. Don't let the naysayers here get you down, keep pointing out cyber security. It's important.


TMB November 22, 2011 at 1:20 pm

That 85% comes from user error, not treason or infiltration.


nraddin November 22, 2011 at 1:44 pm

You are 100% correct. Mostly it's either users not protecting there data, or social engineering, but I think you might be surprised at the number of people willing to hack their own employers systems for fun and profit.


Joe Boyum November 21, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Having once ridden on the outside of an H-6 many moons ago I can say it took all the faith I had in airpower to ride on a manned MH-6. Shipboard anti pirate ops sure, but not as a means to infil operators.

Cool tech though.


Hunter78 November 21, 2011 at 7:23 pm

This is too cheap. Can't we add a few 100-billions to make this really DoD-interesting?


tribulationtime November 22, 2011 at 5:58 am

Overall it is not fair play unmaned vs maned. Man+his brain it is a multi task system. Example: A seal wrote in a book about vietnam what his platoon dog spooky VC, was agressive and good tracking, better than seals but in whole "doings" for their patrols dog was useless. So as Curtis say thus missions can be fullfiled by UAV.


maueemoon November 22, 2011 at 9:15 am

Horses have manes. So these helis don't have manes. As in maneless. Do you mean unmanned?


tribulationtime November 22, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Yes in spanish we say "manos", for human too.


Riceball November 22, 2011 at 10:59 am

It's SEAL not seal, as in Navy SEAL. A Navy SEAL is a highly trained operator that's trained to operate in/from Sea Air & Land, hence the acronym SEAL. A seal is a marine pineped that's closely related to the sea lion and eats fish, squid, some species prey on penguins and are not highly trained Naval commando.


tribulationtime November 22, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Hello I don´t speak english. I know that. But by example if you can correct me by spelling seal instead of SEAL. Please forgive me and If you are not agree with me argue with reassons. Or not. Choose it


Gunny2862 November 23, 2011 at 11:21 am

In American english, seal denotes a water dwelling mammal, SEAL is an acronym that denotes a highly trained military operator of the American Naval forces. They are spelled differently to denote which one the writer is intending to write about.

Your english isn't great but the meaning comes across, good job!
Have a great day


PrometheusGoneWild November 22, 2011 at 8:44 pm

My two cents is:
I can see the point of an aircraft without a pilot. No human occupant frees up space and reduces systems dramatically . The craft can fly for days. It can take turns that will make a pilot pass out. So there are good reasons to take pilots out of a plane
Pilot-less helicopters?
Sure for the Navy which wants to put really small helicopters on all their small boats to add carrier protections; ASW; small boat defense and surveillance capabilities.
The Marines could use them to hang over units which know they are exposed. (beach landings) .They would be no good for units trying to be stealthy, the helicopter would give away their location.
So I see a need for them in the Navy, possibly Marines. Due to space constraints.
Besides that, why would you take the pilot out? The craft will not be flying for long time periods. They don't have the range. Save weight? Sure, but you are adding a lot of complexity. Add maneuverability? Not so much…..
I think it is a technological dead end……


@Brianckramer November 21, 2011 at 3:40 pm

yeah…but they can slow down right? And those are top speeds, not max-range/economy speeds ("slow-stearning")


howard November 26, 2011 at 10:16 am

if i was the ComOp i’d prefer a highly accurate landing in adverse weather rather than a sprint let’s see how fast this sucker hits the deck approach.
and night IR landings work for me too.


guest November 21, 2011 at 6:03 pm

They actually go faster in reverse


Kevin November 22, 2011 at 9:07 am

Sorry to resort to what is basically spam, but I'm honestly fed up with that crap :

"There have been 53 major wars in Europe
France had been a belligerent in 49 of them.
In 185 battles that France had fought over the past 800 years, their armies had won 132 times, lost 43 times and drawn only 10.
Giving the French military the best record of any country in world."
BBC History"


Kevin November 22, 2011 at 9:12 am

Just one thing, the new wave french-bashing and the whole 'cheese-eating surrender monkey' started in 2003 as a politically expedient psy-op. Looking back at it, with 2011's hindsight, doesn't it strike anybody not blinded by ideological bias as the height of irony?
The USA out of iraq (iran's new best pal) not with a bang but with a whimper, karzai sponging off Us money but buddying up with pakistan,16 trillions debt, the keyboard warriors and masculinity-challenged internet tough guys whining about afghanistan… Hell *barack* *hussein* *obama* as a president,… What a joke, what a waste.
Don't get me wrong, I genuinely respect the american people (not the blowhard french-bashers from the "red meat" internet, though, who can go choke on their corndog), but… you've been led down the garden path, as a Nation, by hucksters wrapped in the flag. You've been had.
To the fellows like the 'guest' above, go on with your circle-jerk about the french, still won't change the fact about who got ultimately shafted by a bunch of crooks, and will have to deal with that for a long time.


Kevin November 22, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Ed, we're not talking about a cheeky "teasing" of the french military history or a reasoned critique of France, we talking about drones repeating ad nauseam the "surrender" meme, to an absurd, mechanical level, and France downgraded as a strawman counter-model and a quasi 'ennemy' of the US 'interests' (defined as being what's politically expedient for the oligarchs who have hijacked the whole thing… give me the USA, land of the brave and the free individuals, over these thieves anytime).
You mentioned WWI (interesting that you decouple GB from France, there) and Indochina, fine, what do these tell you about the "white flag", "rifle never fired only dropped", "surrender at the first opportunity",… slurs? Thinks it's fitting for the french men who fought and died there? Even the 1940 battle of France would be 750 000 2011 US military KIA in 4 weeks (with the germans losing half of their planes and a third of their tanks btw).. fitting to make fun of them, to turn them into an abstraction to stroke one's ego?


nraddin November 22, 2011 at 1:10 pm

You have to admit that there battle record over the last 75 years or so has been pretty bad. Before that they where a real world power, and you have to wonder where most Americans where in history class when they talked about the Napoleonic wars. I think it's foolish, short sighted and a grave mischaracterisation of the facts to suggest the French Military sucks, but it's not what it used to be that's for sure.


nraddin November 22, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Preach on Brother!! American's love a took 1 line talking point doesn't matter how much of a mischaracterisation of the truth it is. We as a Nation need to wake up and stop letting talking points rule us, we need facts as complicated and dirty as they are and we need to work with those things understanding that we are not all the same, compromise is OK, and people are more important than money. Maybe then we can get somewhere.


chet steddman November 22, 2011 at 3:10 pm

"Even the 1940 battle of France would be 750 000 2011 US military KIA in 4 weeks (with the germans losing half of their planes and a third of their tanks btw).. "

lol what?


TMB November 22, 2011 at 1:18 pm

"and has significantly better reaction time than any person."

Depends on what they're reacting to. If it's an incoming SAM and there's a self defense program, then probably yes. Pre-programmed maneuvers will probably be faster than a human at the controls making the same decision. However, a pilot with his hands on the stick will move the bird a fraction of a second faster than someone at the controls from a ground station. There's also a slight delay if the bird is operated via satellite link instead of line of sight radio.


Brad Hankinson November 23, 2011 at 12:19 am

I'm pretty sure those ships can slow down for aircraft operations. Bigger question would be sea conditions and especially crosswinds, etc. That speed could go right up to 50 mph + in the right wind conditions (but that's relative airspeed, so who knows?).


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