An F/A-18 D Hornet with unmanned aircraft software on board took over the plane’s controls like a zombie virus seizing the undead. With the plane in its clutches, it safely landed the Hornet on the carrier Harry S. Truman. It essentially amounted to a hands free landing.
The trap wasn’t as nefarious as a zombie invasion, but it may gobble up aviation billets – it was the latest test of the Navy’s drone technology used by the Navy’s Unmanned Combat Air Demonstration program. The technology was a version of the code that’s used on the X-47B that’s been reconfigured for testing on a Hornet. It’s the brains behind unmanned aviation, and instead of a pilot controlling the plane as it takes off and lands, a computer system takes over – hence the “zombie” monicker bestowed by the Scoop Deck’s 100 percent official, non-reversible authority.
After the plane, which still had a pilot from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 in the cockpit, landed, they did a few more zombie shots and traps.
It’s not the first time that Hornet surrogate has operated on a carrier. Last July one made a hands-free landing on the Dwight D. Eisenhower.
While the Navy billed the Ike landing as a first in naval aviation, it wasn’t really so much of a new thing. As writer Norman Polmar pointed out in an email blast last year, “On 12 August, 1957, Lt. Comdr. Don Walker, USN, Landed an F3D Skyknight ‘hands off’ aboard the carrier Antietam (CVS 36) in the first Navy test of an automatic landing system. During the period 12-20 August more than 50 fully automatic landings were made aboard the ship
“Only 54 years ago!!!” he said.
F/A-18D to Air Boss: “Pilot? I don’t need no stinking Pilot!”