The U.S. Navy recently achieved a historic milestone by successfully refueling an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in flight, and SAIC had a hand in it, crafting the detailed technical requirements that told the UAV exactly what to do and where to go.

For more than a decade, a small SAIC team in Patuxent River, Maryland, has supported the Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) Demonstration, the cornerstone of which is the X-47B, a tailless, bat-like, fighter-sized prototype. The goal is to develop and test the feasibility of a UAV that can be launched and recovered from the deck of an aircraft carrier as well as refueled midair. SAIC experts provide program support, test and evaluation, systems engineering, requirements management, interface support, information assurance, and configuration control.


X-47B unmanned aerial vehicle reueling in midair

The X-47B unmanned aerial vehicle is refueled in midair by an Omega K-707 tanker, achieving a historic milestone for the Navy. SAIC provides a variety of support services for the vehicle. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy)


"In terms of refueling, the important thing is not where each of the aircraft is in the world, but where they are in relation to each other," said Project Manager Mark Pilling. "We wrote the command and control requirements and the interface that allows the X-47B and the tanker to exchange navigation data so they can calculate their positions in space—what we call a 'precision relative navigation solution'."

SAIC also helped to develop unmanned carrier aviation concepts and technologies and supported carrier demonstrations for UCAS. In 2013, the UCAS team successfully achieved the first UAV catapult takeoff and arrested landing from an aircraft carrier. Last year, testing was completed on the USS Theodore Roosevelt in tandem with a manned F/A-18 fighter, requiring the pair to take off and land within 90 seconds of each other. This, too, was a first for the Navy. The precision relative navigation solution system—the same one used for aerial refueling—worked perfectly.


First UAV arrested landing on an aircraft carrier

SAIC supported the historic "trap" landing of the X-47B aboard the USS George HW Bush in 2013. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy)