The Air Force Lifecycle Management Center’s MQ-9 Program Office achieved a pivotal milestone in the successful completion of testing for Automatic Takeoff and Landing Capability on Oct. 6 2020.
ATLC allows the Air Force’s MQ-9 fleet to take off and land with automated inputs from sensors onboard the platform, creating a more flexible and dynamic weapon system to meet current and future operational requirements.
Additionally, the successful testing of ATLC validated the incorporation of performing an automated landing of the MQ-9 under a lost-link scenario, increased weight configurations, heavy crosswinds, and the ability of the MQ-9 to perform Aerial Runway Surveys of potential divert locations while in flight.
The MQ-9 Team faced significant challenges in completing development and testing of the ATLC program given COVID impacts.
In addition to manpower shortages due to travel restrictions and quarantine policies, runway closures at multiple primary and backup locations put execution of flight testing in jeopardy. However, the MQ-9 Program Office and Detachment 3 were able to leverage their partnership with the Test Resource Management Center, High Speed Systems Test Unmanned Aerial System based range, SkyRange, team in order to execute the test parameters in a timely fashion.
Utilizing TRMC/HSST SkyRange facilities at the Southern California Logistics Airport, the MQ-9 Team and contractor General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. were able to conduct ATLC testing at the civilian runway in Victorville, Calif. The partnership between MQ-9 Program Office and TRMC/HSST SkyRange adds an important test outlet, amongst other needs, allowing rapid solutions for unplanned or planned deviations. This collaborative effort from all parties resulted in the completion of ATLC three weeks ahead of schedule and the capability being ready for integration in the next release of weapon system software updates.
“Our ability to deliver this capability on-time is a testament to the dedication and mission-focus of all those involved, including our partners at TRMC/HSST and GA-ASI,” said Peter DeArmond, lead program manager for ATLC.
Incorporation of ATLC is the first step in enabling autonomy on the MQ-9 platform, laying the groundwork for future enhancements to further integrate its capabilities into joint operations. The dynamic and flexible foundation of ATLC postures the Air Force and its partners to evolve the MQ-9 platform for participation in Great Power Competition operations, while automation helps to alleviate MQ-9 forward deployed footprint.
“This new capability will allow the MQ-9 to be more flexible and responsive for flight crews and the battlefield airmen in need of MQ-9 capabilities,” said DeArmond. “It allows the MQ-9 to carry larger payloads with increased weight for automated takeoff and landings and respond quicker to mission changes as the environment in which this platform operates continues to evolve.”