US aeronautics company General Atomics Aeronautical Systems has celebrated the first demonstration of a short take-off and landing on Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMAS Prince of Wales, using a Mojave unmanned aircraft system.
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The Mojave unmanned aircraft system (UAS), from the Predator series of UAS, was controlled by aircrew within a control station onboard the ship as it performed take-off, circuits, approaches and ended with a landing back onto the carrier off the east coast of the United States on 15 November.
The short take-off and landing (STOL) aircraft is able to quickly land, re-arm and re-launch with 1,633 kilograms of payload to undertake armed overwatch, attack, and armed reconnaissance missions.
The Mojave can be equipped with 16 AGM-114 Hellfire or equivalent missiles, a sensor suite including electro optic/infrared, synthetic aperture radar/ground moving target indicator and signal intelligence to support land and maritime missions.
“We applaud the Royal Navy’s foresight in embracing this unprecedented capability for its carriers,” according to GA-ASI chief executive officer Linden Blue.
“We knew our STOL capability would enable a UAS to safely take off and land on the Prince of Wales.
“Seeing our Mojave operate successfully in this environment opens myriad new ways our aircraft can be used to support multi-domain naval operations.”
The Mojave short take-off and landing UAS demonstrator was originally developed to prove STOL operations at unprepared landing sites and is based on technology developed for Gray Eagle and Reaper UAS.
A short take-off and landing wing set option is being planned for the larger, more capable MQ-9B aircraft such as SkyGuardian, SeaGuardian, and the new Protector RG Mk 1 currently being delivered to the UK Royal Air Force. The MQ-9B version (MQ-9B STOL) is being considered by the Royal Navy to operate aircraft from large flat-deck warships without catapults and arresting gear.
Equipping UAS with STOL capability is hoped to provide greater versatility and allow aircraft to operate in areas previously deemed unsuitable for UAS operations, including landing onto and taking off from an aircraft carrier.
MQ-9B STOL will be capable of carrying the same payloads and conducting the same missions as the SkyGuardian and SeaGuardian, including maritime surveillance, anti-submarine warfare, airborne early warning, and surface strike.
“The Mojave trial is a European first; the first time that a Remotely Piloted Air System of this size has operated to and from an aircraft carrier outside of the United States,” according to Royal Navy Director Develop, Rear Admiral James Parkin, whose team planned the trial.
“The success of this trial heralds a new dawn in how we conduct maritime aviation and is another exciting step in the evolution of the Royal Navy’s Carrier Strike Group into a mixed crewed and uncrewed fighting force.”