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Fixed-wing UAS completes RN carrier resupply proof-of-concept trial

The HCMC air vehicle on the deck of HMS Prince of Wales . (Crown Copyright)

The UK Royal Navy (RN) and W Autonomous Systems have completed a proof-of-concept activity designed to demonstrate the operation of a fixed-wing cargo-carrying unmanned aircraft system (UAS) from the flight deck of a Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier.

Performed on 5 September, the trial saw a W Autonomous Systems' HCMC short take-off landing (STOL) air vehicle take off from Predannack Airfield on the Lizard peninsula, complete a 20-minute transit out to HMS Prince of Wales off the Cornish coast, and execute a short non-arrested landing on the ship's flight deck. A symbolic payload was removed, and a new package loaded, before the UAS performed a short take-off to return to Predannack.

The RN is examining the potential for uncrewed aviation to accomplish intra-theatre and inter-theatre lift for stores, supplies, and mail given that the use of crewed helicopters for cargo transfer is expensive and removes aircraft from their primary mission. One strand of the service's Future Maritime Aviation Force vision, known as Panther, is specifically exploring the introduction of an agile, low-cost lift capability that would significantly decrease the costs associated with the movement of low-weight, low-volume stores between units in the Carrier Strike Group.

W Autonomous Systems was one of two companies previously participating in a Phase 1 Heavy Lift Challenge of the Ministry of Defence's (MoD's) Uncrewed Air Systems Heavy Lift Capability (UASHLC) framework. The UASHLC commenced in 2021 as a collaboration between Defence Equipment and Support's Future Capability Group and the Office of the Chief Technology Officer in Navy Command to stimulate and accelerate the development of beyond-visual-line-of-sight autonomous Heavy Lift UASs.

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