A team of contracted civilian Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) specialists, attached to Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division’s (NAWCAD) UX-24 Unmanned Test Squadron, teamed up with Military Sealift Command and the crew of MSC’s fleet replenishment oiler USNS Joshua Humphreys (T-AO 188) to test a new concept in material transportation, while the ship was at sea in the Atlantic Ocean, July 15-16. The team performed three UAS test flights as part of the warfare center’s Blue Water unmanned air systems project. The Blue Water UAS featured a removable, internal cargo bay capable of transporting small payloads of material from one location to another.
“Our team went underway to test the feasibility of operating the UAS in a maritime environment, which is one of the most difficult environments to operate any type of aircraft in. The ultimate goal was to see if this UAS could perform a ship-to-ship mission. The Blue Water system is designed to be a cargo transport or logistics UAS capable of delivering a combined weight of supplies and mission fuel of 30 pounds. We were here to demonstrate that this UAS could successfully complete an extended range mission of 200-250 nautical miles with approximately 12 pounds of repair parts,” said Project Engineer Mark Richardella, of NAWCAD’s UX-24 Unmanned Test Squadron.
For the test to be considered successful, the team needed to prove the unmanned aircraft could travel a distance of at least 200 nautical miles while carrying out a ship-to-ship logistic support mission. The Blue Water UAS tested during the underway included the aircraft, ground station and telemetry station. In each of the test flights, the UAS successfully transported an internal cargo consisting of simulated repair parts. On July 15, the first day of shipboard testing, the UAS was launched from the ship’s flight deck and ascended approximately 100 feet vertically. The first flight was basically a function test to ensure that the system was fully operational and functioning properly,
The UAS then descended back to the flight deck where the team of specialists successfully recovered the UAS.The first day of testing included a second test flight where the UAS was launched vertically from the ship, transitioned to forward flight away from USNS Joshua Humphreys and executed a direct flight back to the ship, where it again successfully landed vertically on the flight deck. On July 16, the second day of testing, the UAS again was launched from USNS Joshua Humphrey’s flight deck and successfully transported its internal payload of simulated supplies to the flight deck of the guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96). Moving forward, MSC is evaluating the UAS concept’s limitations and determining what modifications and improvements would be required for the concept to become an operational capability.