HIGH-TECH FLIGHT DECK
DIGITAL-AGE ELECTRONICS, UNMANNED SYSTEMS
WILL MEAN BIG CHANGES IN CARRIER OPERATIONS
By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent
Bringing Order to Chaos
One system being developed by
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), with Office of Naval
Research (ONR) funds, would
provide the flight deck managers
computer-aided situational awareness and quicker response to emergencies or changes in operational
plans. It also could help resolve the
difficult challenge of guiding unmanned aircraft around the flight deck.
Another system now being fielded by Naval Air Systems Command
(NAVAIR) would computerize the
aircraft handler’s display of flight
deck conditions, which for nearly
70 years has been a primitive, hand-manipulated operation named for a
device used by some fortune tellers.
A third system, recently tested by
Currently, control of the flight deck during operations
is a manpower-intensive process relying on sometimes
spotty radio or direct oral communications. Out on the
wind-swept and tumultuous deck, aircraft are directed
after landing or in preparation for takeoff by yellow-shirted controllers, aided by blue-shirted plane handlers.
Directions on the movement and spotting of aircraft
and information on the status of that process are
exchanged verbally between the controllers and the flight
deck officer, or aircraft handler, who is in a cramped room
in the island just off the flight deck. With the help of
enlisted personnel, the handler keeps track of the location
of aircraft and significant support equipment, such as the
rescue crane and tow tractors, by moving flat metal scaled
models around a table top replica of the flight deck.
The status of the planes’ mechanical condition, fuel
and armaments can be reflected by symbols placed on
Navy officials are working with partners in industry and academia
to make flight deck operations more efficient and prepare for the
integration of unmanned systems on carriers.
■ The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is working on a system that would provide the flight deck managers computer-aided
situational awareness and quicker response to emergencies or
changes in operational plans.
■ Another system now being fielded by Naval Air Systems
Command (NAVAIR) would computerize the aircraft handler’s display of flight deck conditions.
■ NAVAIR and Northrop Grumman are testing a system that
guides unmanned aircraft around the carrier’s flight pattern and
to precision landings on the moving deck.
After nearly 90 years of managing the chaotic and dangerous operations on an aircraft car- rier’s flight deck primarily by rudimentary
manual means, the Navy is taking a number of steps to
insert digital-age technology into the process.
In addition to making the movement of scores of
aircraft and numerous pieces of support equipment on
the noisy and congested flight deck more efficient, the
high-tech electronics are preparing for the day in the
not-so-distant future when some of the aircraft on that
deck will be unmanned.
That latter consideration is driven by the ongoing
testing of Northrop Grumman’s X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System-Demonstration (UCAS-D) aircraft and
the follow-on Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne
Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program. [See story
on page 26.]
Combined, these advances could bring one of the
biggest changes in carrier operations perhaps since the
angled flight deck was added in the 1950s.