The experimental U.S. Navy drone that became the first unmanned jet to land aboard a moving aircraft carrier was told to abort the third and final attempt after one of its navigational computers failed, officials said.
The bat-winged aircraft, known as the X-47B and made by Northrop Grumman Corp., completed two touchdowns and takeoffs yesterday aboard the USS George H.W. Bush about 70 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach, Va., in what officials heralded as the future of naval aviation.
On the third approach, the drone reported that one of its three navigational computers failed, so the human operator instructed the craft to fly to a runway at Wallops Island, Va., according to Rear Adm. Mat Winter, the service’s program executive officer for unmanned aviation and strike weapons.
“On every test, we have some type of anomalous behavior,” Winter said today during a conference call with reporters. “X-47B did everything it was designed to do.”
The incident occurred about two minutes prior to the last planned landing, according to Capt. Jaime Engdahl, who manages the Navy’s Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator, or UCAS-D, program.
“We saw an issue with one of the precision navigation computers and decided that we had done enough for the day and then flew the aircraft back,” Engdahl said during the call.
“Landing aboard an aircraft carrier is extremely demanding,” he added. “The accuracy, the integrity, the reliability that you need is critical to the safety of the aircraft and the fact that we’re landing on a ship in close proximity to flight deck personnel and other aircraft.”
Officials are reviewing the data to determined what happened to the navigational computer, according to Carl Johnson, a vice president at Falls Church, Va.-based Northrop who manages the program for the company.