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The Military

First Successful Unmanned Drone Landing On an Aircraft Carrier 176

Posted by samzenpus
from the let-the-computer-do-it dept.
redletterdave writes "Salty Dog 502 flew from the Patuxent River Naval Station in Maryland to the USS George H.W. Bush operating off the Virginian coast, but unlike other drones, Salty Dog was piloted entirely by computer without a human operator. The unmanned operation is considered one of the most difficult operations due to navigating the air and a moving ship, and many have said it's a major milestone in the development of drone warfare. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus described the event as witnessing the future and compared it to the first manned aircraft landed on a carrier in 1911."
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First Successful Unmanned Drone Landing On an Aircraft Carrier

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 12, 2013 @12:50AM (#44258511)

    G.W. Bush landed on a carrier years before this.

    • by Cryacin (657549) on Friday July 12, 2013 @01:07AM (#44258563)
      Don't insult the drones. They have a far greater reaching spread of abilities and a much more complicated and adaptable intelligence engine.
      • by argStyopa (232550) on Friday July 12, 2013 @07:06AM (#44259699) Journal

        I always love when some random internet wanker posting from his mom's basement posits that a man that:
        a) flew fighter jets for the National Guard (deprecate it all you like, make smarmy comments about his attendance, whatever - nobody doubts that he flew and qualified in fighter jets, which was neither easy nor particularly safe)
        b) Graduated Yale, and earned an MBA from Harvard (it's particularly noteworthy that he's the only president ever with an MBA...if he was a Democrat, that would be widely known)
        c) won an election as Governor of TX over a popular opponent (Ann Richards)
        d) won election to the Presidency of the United States. Won RE-ELECTION (by an even larger margin). ...is an idiot.

        This man has actually accomplished a great deal in his life. Maybe he IS an idiot, but doesn't that make his accomplishments all that more impressive. Particularly compared to you - what have you done? (I mean, aside from generating snarky comments nearly-anonymously on an internet message board? I mean, of course that's pretty impressive alone...)

        Of course, there's practically a Leftist industry of shat-smearing on Republicans (as opposed to Democrats that make 'journalists' legs tingle), so you can't really be blamed. The script has always been "Democrats brilliant, Republicans stoopid" so, if you cheerfully swallow when someone tells you to, that's the impression you're going to have.

        But the sort of self-aggrandizing narcissist fantasyland you exist in to deprecate this man's accomplishments must be...impressive.

        • by tristes_tigres (952446) on Friday July 12, 2013 @07:37AM (#44259781)

          You are forgetting his biggest achievements:

          - Invaded sovereign nation that did not threaten USA - the supreme war crime under Nurenberg statues. This war resulted in million+ excess deaths of Iraq populac, according to the Johns Hopkins Unuiversity study

          - Established secret torture GULAG

          - Declared habeas corpus void for "terorism" suspects

          - Launched the total survelliance programs that Snowden now revealed

          - Given away trillions of public money to corrupt and bankrupt Wall Street bankers

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by 605dave (722736)

          As a internet wanker posting from my own basement I'd say this,

          a) He never flew off of carriers, and joined the National Guard to avoid actual combat service. There is also every indication that he went AWOL during his service to avoid drug testing.
          b) As the son of the family he was in (at that time in American history), getting into those places is not that big of accomplishment.
          c) He beat Ann Richards who was only the Governor of Texas for one term because her opponent completely screwed up his election

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            I do think the current crop of leaders such as Boehner and Cantor are not statesman or leaders like Bush Sr,

            You mean "running CIA death squads all over central and south america" Bush Sr.? Or did you mean grandpa Prescott Bush, who made the Bush family fortune knowingly funneling funding to Hitler's S.S.?

          • by Anonymous Coward

            I believe the original commenter conflated Jr. with Sr., who was indeed a Navy fighter pilot in WWII.

            Everyone is under the mistaken belief that the President sets foreign policy. The White House actually has very limited latitude there, much less than Congress, which is schizoid by nature and has been suffering from (conveniet) dementia for a long time now. The real decisions are made elsewhere, often not even in this country. Congress just does what it's paid to do, on a very ad-hoc and erratic basis, but

            • by argStyopa (232550)

              Bush Sr was a Navy pilot in WWII.
              Bush Jr was a pilot in the Texas National Guard, later the Alabama National Guard.*
              *Personally, I think it was pretty clear that he joined the Guard not the Air Force to avoid service in Vietnam if he could, but still 'accomplish' being a military pilot (either for his father, his family, or for future political plans). I suspect that if you surveyed the scions of wealthy families in that era, a LOT of them took that route. Not that that exonerates him, but there were also

          • by tsotha (720379)

            ...and joined the National Guard to avoid actual combat service.

            This is what I love about Bush detractors. Somehow you guys can read his mind.

            • by 605dave (722736)

              I don't have to read his mind, I read his actions.

              • by tsotha (720379)
                Right, right. Because you know what he was thinking when he joined the guard by the very act of joining the guard.
                • by 605dave (722736)

                  Yes I can. There were plenty of people that volunteered for active duty service, including John Kerry whose service was questioned by W. If W had wanted to see combat, he could have. He choose not to.

                  • by argStyopa (232550)

                    "...The report reveals on page 130 that Mapes, one of those fired because of the scandal, had documented information in her possession before the controversial September 8 broadcast that George W. Bush, while in the Texas Air National Guard, âoedid volunteer for service in Vietnam but was turned down in favor of more experienced pilots.â ..."

                    Whups. What were you saying again about him not volunteering?
                    He flew interceptors in the Guard. He volunteered, but the military said "you know what, we don

                  • by tsotha (720379)

                    No you can't. There's no way you can know what was going on in his mind. Of course he could have been involved in combat if that's what he really wanted, but so what? That's not the same thing as saying he joined the guard to avoid it.

                    And frankly, Lurch's record is nothing anyone could be proud of. There's not a lot of honor in getting three little scratches (at least one of which was self-inflicted) and calling it a day after two months of combat duty.

          • by Maudib (223520)

            Seriously.

            I'm not some loony tunes liberal. In fact I'll play devils advocate sometimes and argue that Nixon has gotten a bad rap, and deserves respect for many truly great achievements. I gladly recognize that Reagan was an inspirational leader for many, at a time when the nation face great peril.

            Bush Jr was simply an unmitigated disaster. It's beyond incompetence. Not only was he incompetent, he is a bafoon.

        • The taunting isn't because he is an idiot. It's because he acted like an idiot, deliberately. He created his 'cowboy' persona, and showed a love of soundbites and a very informal manner of speech. Like all successful politicians, he was also something of an actor. He saw that there was a strong anti-intellectual element in the electorate, and deliberately appealed to them by looking far less intelligent than he really was.

          That is, in my view, far worse than just being unintelligent. He deliberately turned e

          • "[George W. Bush] was a cheerleader in prep school, he's really less of a cowboy than that guy in the Village People for Christ sake"

            -Greg Giraldo(RIP)
        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          If you are trying to suggest someone is qualified, mentioning an MBA is a bad move. Point d is more a comment on the stupidity of americans though.

          The rest I agree with.

          I think the typical belief is republican voters are stupid, no their candidates. I am not sure how true it is, but the folks at the tea party gatherings did not do much to change that image. Those folks and the religious nuts the Barry Goldwater warned of are what likely cause this perception.

          Republicans sure seem to hate him now but that ma

        • by thoth (7907)

          This man has actually accomplished a great deal in his life. Maybe he IS an idiot, but doesn't that make his accomplishments all that more impressive. Particularly compared to you - what have you done?

          He also had major family connections, got bailed out of failed business ventures, etc. It isn't like he rowed to shore penniless and fought for everything he got.

          He graduated Yale.... yeah well a regular person with his academic *ahem* prowess wouldn't have even been admitted.

          If you can't see that, well you're a pretty big dumbass too.

        • by Maudib (223520)

          All while pulling himself up by his own bootstraps!

          I'm sure his massive family connections in no way assisted in any of that.

        • by DarthVain (724186)

          I think many might argue that many of those achievements might be made a bit easier having a governor/president/ex-president as a father, and having access to political connections from day one, and having oodles and oodles of money, and privilege .

          Anyway I am not saying for sure that this is the case, only that it is a real possibility.

          His resume also says he was into the booze and coke a bit, and ran a couple oil companies he was put in change into the ground prior to running for political office.

          Whatever

        • by mcmaddog (732436)

          it's particularly noteworthy that he's the only president ever with an MBA

          Why is having an MBA so important and distinctive as opposed to other higher degrees held by some Presidents? It didn't seem to help him run businesses well, even if he personally profited handsomely?

          He's far from the only President to have an Advanced Degree and certainly doesn't hold the highest. According to this site [rasmussen.edu], these Presidents all had Advanced degrees:
          John Adams - Master's degree
          John Quincy Adams - Master's degree
          Woodrow Wilson - Doctoral degree
          Bill Clinton - Juris Doctor
          George W Bush

      • They have a far greater reaching spread of abilities and a much more complicated and adaptable intelligence engine.

        ...uhm...that's what she said?

    • G.W. Bush landed on a carrier years before this.

      Yes, but has he ever landed on USS George H.W. Bush?

    • by rubycodez (864176)

      a chimp landing a plane is pretty damn impressive

  • Skynet?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Now the next big milestone is a fully automated takeoff, identification and destruction of a target, and return to landing. That'll be so awesome! I can't even imagine the milestones that will follow.

  • I know. It's the wrong George. It'll still be a long time before that gets old for me.
  • guiding system (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dorianny (1847922) on Friday July 12, 2013 @01:22AM (#44258619) Journal
    The real question in my opinion is what kind of guiding system do the drones use. Flying by radar guidance is something that we have been doing for a long time, surface to air or air to air missiles use it to lock on a stay on target, unfortunately flying with active radar turned on you are putting a bullseye on yourself that makes it trivial for a enemy with any kind of air defenses to easily track it and shoot it down. Flying with visual guidance is considerably harder (by visual guidance I don't mean simply terrain contour matching to figure out its current location like the tomahawk). Most don't appreciate just how fast the human brain is in quickly figuring out and processing relevant information in the insane amount of visual data that enters our retinas every instant. Computers are nowhere near as good yet.
    • Just a guess, but I wouldn't be surprised if it used stereoscopic vision to assess in figuring out the Z-plane and not just the X,Y. From there, it can infer the geometry and angle of approach of the carrier it's about to land on.

      • Re:guiding system (Score:5, Informative)

        by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Friday July 12, 2013 @02:49AM (#44258877)

        Just a guess, but I wouldn't be surprised if it used stereoscopic vision to assess in figuring out the Z-plane and not just the X,Y. From there, it can infer the geometry and angle of approach of the carrier it's about to land on.

        Furthermore, a carrier deck has markings and lights at precisely known locations. Just by tracking any three of these points, plus the GAIL (glide angle indicator light), the vision system should have enough information to nail the landing. This landing is a notable achievement, but I don't think the vision system was the hard part.

        • Furthermore, a carrier deck has markings and lights at precisely known locations. Just by tracking any three of these points, plus the GAIL (glide angle indicator light), the vision system should have enough information to nail the landing.

          You can also do it by tracking the landing drone from the carrier and sending the data back. The hull is quite rigid, triangulating the position from the carrier and sending the data back should be accurate enough. The necessary tracking systems:

          1) wouldn't pose a dead weight for the drone in flight, as opposed on-board systems on the drone tracking the carrier, so they would have no weight limit,

          2) would be applicable to all landing drones, so you wouldn't have to install one tracking system per drone (and

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      the carrier it's landing on has beacons, could use passive
      the carrier is running several radars.
      the carrier is a big hulking pile of metal visible as far as the horizon.

      also the human brain sucks for low level fast flying therefore it's done assisted in reality..

      anyhow, isn't the article a dupe?

    • If the drones are landing on carriers in the middle of a carrier group, they're probably not too worried about being targeted.

    • I'm not familiar with the X-47 specifically, but nowadays, if you have a solid GPS solution with RTK (Real-time Kinematics) you can get your altitude within centimeters and even velocity vectors, which are necessary for automated landings. In other systems we've used other radar-based landing systems like Sierra Nevada Corporation's UCARS/TALS. These systems track the AV from the ground/deck with a radar beacon that is only active during recovery operations. In systems I've worked with they actually send

    • by Keick (252453)

      The real question in my opinion is what kind of guiding system do the drones use. Flying with visual guidance is considerably harder

      We did this back in 2002 with the X-31, although we used a simulated carrier. So while it was the first actual landing of a drone, it wasn't even close to the first to do a full auto carrier landing.

      What the most likely primary sensor technology is GPS for the drone, merged with good old rate/accel/intertial sensor suite. What was done with the X-31 was put a suedolite (ground

    • by yurtinus (1590157)
      Like just about all drones, it flies using GPS/INS [wikipedia.org]

      Also, automatic landings [wikipedia.org] using a radar system is nothing new on carriers (started in 1957 [navalhistory.org])
  • by foniksonik (573572) on Friday July 12, 2013 @02:20AM (#44258807) Homepage Journal

    The Salty Dog is one of two X-47B aircraft built by Northrop Grumman to experiment with incorporating drones onto aircraft carriers. It has a 2,000-mile range and can carry two guided bombs, though it is primarly designed for around-the-clock surveillance. The Salty Dog cost $1.4 billion.

    The drones probably won’t see any combat. After a minimum of three landings on a carrier in the next week, they will be retired to flight museums in Florida and Maryland.

    Instead, the Navy’s UCLASS program will design and build drones for aircraft carriers over the next three to six years. These drones will be used for both reconnaissance and strike missions. According to Reuters, they could be valuable as a counter to missiles in China and Iran designed to limit the range of the U.S. Navy.

    They could have proven out the guidance systems with less expensive hardware. I'm sure some portion of those Billions was directly related to the effort but a significant amount was also dumped into the plane itself as labor and not recoverable.

    • by jxander (2605655) on Friday July 12, 2013 @05:35AM (#44259443)

      Prototypes are expensive, mate. Cost of progress. You're probably right, we could test the individual systems more cheaply, but lab tests in similar gear will only get you so far. At some point you need to do a full-up test run with the actual platform and all components.

      Honestly, I would suspect that many MANY tests were run just like you suggested, prior to this event, and the combined cost of those tests (and rectifying and problems found) are all rolled up into that Total cost, driving that cost up further.

      • by radtea (464814)

        Prototypes are expensive, mate. Cost of progress

        What is this "progress" thing of which you speak?

        It's certainly nothing to do with the ability to kill people in an almost entirely consequence-free way so the empires of the 20th century can extend and preserve themselves by sowing death and discord across the globe, all using technology that if deployed for peaceful purposes could alleviate many of the problems that those empires were created to solve.

        The pity is that there are people smart enough to build systems like this machine for killing, but stupid

        • by jxander (2605655)

          Military always gets the shiny new tech first, but the advances will make their way into the civilian sector eventually. (see: ARPANET)

          The ability to land a plane without human interaction, within very tight limits, is one that can help the civilian sector immensely in the long term. We just had a crash a week ago in San Fransisco. Perhaps a drone pilot system would have seen the issue and corrected it. Not only could the systems developed for the plane in TFA reduce crashes in the long term, they could

    • by yurtinus (1590157)
      They were proven out on less expensive hardware, but at some point you need to put the rubber to the road (so to speak). The X-47 is very much a prototype like the Y-F17 or X-32. Prove out a design, learn a bit while you're at it, and apply what you've learned to functioning production hardware. You don't go from an INS and computer in a Cessna straight to an armed combat ready drone.
  • by etash (1907284) on Friday July 12, 2013 @02:22AM (#44258815)
    wasn't drone enough? is anyone aware of manned drones?
  • We go from TopGun-esque hotshot pilots to backdoor joystick fiddlers.
    • We go from TopGun-esque hotshot pilots to backdoor joystick fiddlers.

      I believe the term you're looking for is "revenge of the nerds". :-)

  • by 3seas (184403)

    Unmanned aircraft carriers...

  • I fail to see how this is terribly new or revolutionary from a tech standpoint. I was stationed aboard a carrier in 1985 when the first fully hands off automated landings of F-18's were tested. Seems to me that if we were able to do that in '85, how is this revolutionary. The only new feature is that the computer intercepted the landing system signals itself before landing, hardly a task that hasn't been in every autopilot for over e generation now.
  • The headline implies that there have been other, unsuccessful attempts at landing a UAV on a carrier (or else 'first successful' sounds redundant). Yet there is no mention of the failures.
    • by cellocgw (617879)

      The headline implies that there have been other, unsuccessful attempts at landing a UAV on a carrier (or else 'first successful' sounds redundant). Yet there is no mention of the failures.

      The DoD and its "partners" in the Defense Industry have a nearly unbroken record of publicizing only successes and burying test failures. About the only way you can tell that some widget didn't pass test is if it either gets cancelled or its budget gets doubled (so next time it'll work FOR SURE).

  • by koan (80826)

    They are even closer to the perfect weapon, one where you enter a command and it does the task no questions asked.
    The ground crew just fuels it and sticks missiles on it, they never know what it's doing or where it's going.

Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft ... and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor. -- Wernher von Braun

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