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STOL shipmate: Mojave comes on board

GA-ASI's Mojave STOL RPAS demonstrator takes off from HMS Prince of Wales on 15 November. (Crown Copyright)

The UK Royal Navy's (RN) ambitions to introduce a hybrid carrier air wing blending both crewed and uncrewed aircraft moved a step closer during November 2023 with a first flight demonstration of a tactical short take-off and landing (STOL) remotely piloted air system (RPAS) from a Queen Elizabeth-class (QEC) carrier.

Performed from HMS Prince of Wales towards the end of the ship's Westlant 23 deployment, the proof-of-concept saw a General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) Mojave STOL RPAS safely launch from, and recover to, the ship in waters off the US eastern seaboard.

In a statement, Rear Admiral James Parkin, director develop in Navy Command Headquarters, said the trial marked a European first, being “the first time that a remotely piloted air system of this size has operated to and from an aircraft carrier outside of the United States”. He added, “The success of this trial heralds a new dawn in how we conduct maritime aviation and is another exciting step in the evolution of the Royal Navy's carrier strike group into a mixed crewed and uncrewed fighting force.”

In addition to generating early evidence to inform the RN's Future Maritime Aviation Force (FMAF) vision, the demonstration has also helped to support GA-ASI's long-term ambitions to bring its Predator medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aircraft system (UAS) family into the naval environment; in particular, the company is looking at enabling STOL aviation from through-deck ships devoid of assisted launch/arrested recovery equipment.

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