The Mojave aircraft, which has a 55ft wingspan, successfully took off and landed on board HMS Prince of Wales in a ‘European first’. The remotely operated aircraft, codenamed Mojave, took off from and safely landed on board HMS Prince of Wales in a trial off the US coast on Friday.
No crewless machine of its size – it is 30ft (9m) long and weighs more than one and a half tonnes – has flown from an aircraft carrier before, except for the US Navy.
Rear-Adml James Parkin, the Royal Navy director develop, whose team planned the trial, said: “The Mojave trial is a European first – the first time that a remotely piloted air system of this size has operated to and from an aircraft carrier outside of the US.
“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.”
The Royal Navy has been operating pilotless aircraft from its ships for around two decades but the Mojave – a version of the MQ1C Gray Eagle aircraft adapted for take-off and landing from runways even shorter than the flight deck of Queen Elizabeth-class carriers – is much larger and more complex than other models. Mojave is capable of carrying out several long endurance missions from medium altitude, with its maximum altitude being 29,000ft.
Vice-Adml Martin Connell, the Royal Navy’s Second Sea Lord, said embracing autonomy was “the next logical step to ensuring that the Royal Navy can continue to fight and win in an increasingly complex operating environment”.
He added: “With so many international partners interested in the results of these Mojave trials on board HMS Prince of Wales, I am delighted that we are taking the lead in such exciting and important work to unlock the longer-term potential of the aircraft carrier and push it deep into the 21st century as a highly-potent striking capability.”
Months of planning from the Royal Navy, General Atomics, which produced their aircraft, and HMS Prince of Wales’ crew went into the trial which was one of several involving crewless aircraft and F-35s this autumn.
Commander Martin Russell, in charge of air operations aboard HMS Prince of Wales said: “My team and I are excited and proud to be the first to launch and land a Mojave from an aircraft carrier.”
A pilotless plane was flown on and off a Royal Navy aircraft carrier for the first time in September.
The W Autonomous Systems (WAS) drone flew from the Lizard Peninsula and on to the deck of HMS Prince of Wales off the Cornish coast, delivered supplies, then flew back in a Royal Navy first.
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