A major step toward an unmanned, autonomous aircraft carrier-based plane was recently achieved by Rancho Bernardo-based Northrop-Grumman.
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The Unmanned Combat Air System, or UCAS, flew its first flight at Naval Air Station, Patuxent River in Maryland.
"It's a test facility where all the air traffic control and instrument systems that a normal carrier-based plane would encounter can be replicated," said Jim Zortman, who is with Northrop-Grumman in Rancho Bernardo. "UCAS demonstrated it can operate in such an environment."
The software that allows UCAS to fly autonomously is developed and tested in facilities in Kearny Mesa and Rancho Bernardo.
"Some 4,000 people are involved in Northrop-Grumman in San Diego and about two-thirds of them are involved in unmanned systems," Zortman said.
The next step will be to test the unmanned aircraft onboard an aircraft carrier, which is scheduled to take place next year.
The unmanned system is being sought by the Navy because it can stay airborne for extended periods of time while sending data back to commanders at sea.
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