Good news from the boffins at the Office of Naval Research:
Select pilots in early 2012 will commence testing new flight control software, funded in part by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), intended to facilitate aircraft landings on Navy carrier decks with unprecedented accuracy. “The precision that we can bring to carrier landings in the future will be substantial,” said Michael Deitchman, deputy chief of naval research for naval air warfare and weapons. “The flight control algorithm has the potential to alter the next 50 years of how pilots land on carrier decks.”.A new algorithm embedded in the flight-control software augments the landing approach, the ONR says. Coupled with an experimental shipboard light system called a Bedford Array and accompanying cockpit head-up display (HUD) symbols, the software ties the movement of the pilot’s control stick directly to the aircraft’s flight path. Instead of constantly adjusting the aircraft’s trajectory indirectly through attitude changes, the pilot maneuvers the aircraft to project a dotted green line in the HUD over a target light shining in the landing area.
“The flight-control algorithm has the potential to alter the next 50 years of how pilots land on carrier decks,” Deitchman says…
The new algorithm embedded in the flight control software augments the landing approach. Coupled with an experimental shipboard light system called a Bedford Array and accompanying cockpit heads-up display symbols, the software ties the movement of the pilot’s control stick directly to the aircraft’s flight path. Instead of constantly adjusting the plane’s trajectory indirectly through attitude changes, the pilot maneuvers the aircraft to project a dotted green line in the heads-up display over a target light shining in the landing area.
“It is almost like a video game,” said James “Buddy” Denham, the senior engineer who has been leading the research and development efforts at Naval Air Systems Command. “You’re tracking a shipboard stabilized visual target with a flight path reference, and the airplane knows what it needs to do to stay there.”
Apart from opening up important new exchange opportunities for basic airwork-challenged USAF pilots, naval aircraft that can be landed more precisely can be designed with weight efficiencies that will either make them more combat capable, or alternatively leave them with reserve weight that can be used to incorporate new capabilities as they emerge in response to evolving threats. Such a technology could also have the effect of reducing life-limiting fatigue cycles on the airframe as well as flight hours dedicated to carrier landing practice, leaving more hours for aviators to sharpen their than tactical skills.
Now for the bad news:
The Office of Naval Research is facing a possible brain drain in the coming decade as half its civilian scientists and engineers become eligible for retirement, jeopardizing what was a catalyst for American innovation in the 20th century and a lifeline for U.S. troops in the field.
While it’s unclear how many employees will head for the exit of the sea service’s preeminent research arm, Dr. Michael Kassner of ONR’s discovery and innovation department said he expects “a significant fraction of that 50 percent” to stop working.
The retirements could be problematic because there may be no one to replace them, he said.
As America’s standing in the science and math fields continues to wane, officials like Kassner say there will not be enough graduates in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — coming out of U.S. colleges to replace those leaving the workforce.
Res ipsa loquitur.