The U.S. Department of Defense
recently ran a successful test of flight control software that can survive
combat damage, figure out how to recover, and then land the aircraft. The test
was conducted using a 60 percent scale UAV model of a F-18 fighter. The UAV had
a right wing that could detach part of itself in flight. The aircraft can also
instigate several other "failures" typical of massive combat damage (as would
accompany most of one wing.) The new
software, called ASAC (Automatic Supervisory Adaptive Control) uses what can
best be described as AI (Artificial Intelligence) to quickly assess the
situation, come up with the best possible solution, and then carry it out. In
this case, that means landing what's left of the aircraft safely.
is really nothing new, just evolutionary.
For years, commercial aircraft have had flight control systems that can
land and fly to their destination automatically. Automated take offs are
possible, but not necessary, as most of that process consists of maneuvering
the aircraft on the ground, to get it into position where it can execute the
relatively simple (at least compared to a landing) procedure.
much more complicated, especially at night or in bad weather. That's why
automated landing systems were developed first. There was a real need for this
sort of stuff. Meanwhile, the Global Hawk, the largest UAV in service, already
has, and uses, automated landing, flight and takeoff. All an operator does is
maneuver the UAV around on the ground, before takeoff and after landing.
example is how Israel has designed a maritime patrol UAV by simply installing UAV
type flight control software in a Gulfstream 550 business jet (equipped with radar and other
recon type sensors). The Gulfstream 550 UAV uses the flight control software,
plus the addition of cameras in the cockpit, so that the ground operator could
see what pilots normally see.
developments like this that make combat pilots wonder what their long term
career prospects are. But for the moment, the main reason for developing this
more capable flight control software, is to decrease the number of UAVs lost to
damage or equipment failure.