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CHIPS Articles: RQ-21A Blackjack team cuts costs by simulating sea-based tests

RQ-21A Blackjack team cuts costs by simulating sea-based tests
By PEO(U&W) Public Affairs - August 28, 2017
NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, Md. – The RQ-21A Blackjack Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) test team saved time and money recently by completing a portion of the traditional sea based approaches in a simulated environment at the UAS Test Directorate (UASTD) at Webster Field Annex, St. Inigoes, Maryland.

While awaiting availability of a Landing Platform Dock (LPD) to conduct the at-sea evaluation of the Blackjack 7.6 software build, the team acted on some innovative ideas for land-based testing the ship configuration of the system, said Cmdr. Matt Densing, UASTD director.

“By making use of land-based resources, the team capitalized on opportunities that provided the program office with an early look at the shipboard recovery performance of the RQ-21A with a new software load, without actually going to the LPD,” said Densing.

“While we could gather the material (antennas and associated ship-based hardware) for the UAS operation, we had to figure out how to incorporate movement,” said Bill McCartney, RQ-21A Blackjack lead test engineer.

The team modified a truck, normally used as a mobile command center, to be a mobile ground control station (GCS) for RQ-21. The controlling GCS located inside the truck simulates a GCS embarked on a ship at-sea. In addition, UASTD repurposed a ship motion platform which previously evaluated possible backups to the shipboard joint precision approach and landing system (JPALS).

The team reconfigured the ship motion platform software to mimic the RQ-21A operational limitations and attached to a hitch point of the mobile GCS. The team also mounted an antenna to place a GPS receiver above the platform to properly model the rolling motion of an underway ship while allowing the aircraft to remain clear of surrounding obstacles (buildings and trees) during approaches.

“This was a great job by a small test team to be creative with existing resources to save the program thousands of dollars by providing an early test and engineering assessment for proposed software changes,” Densing said.

The RQ-21A system is comprised of five air vehicles, two ground control systems, launch and recovery equipment, and support equipment to provide the warfighter with day and night Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) coverage.

The expeditionary nature of the RQ-21A, which does not require a runway for launch and recovery, makes it possible to deploy with minimal footprint from both land-based and shipboard environments.

The RQ-21A Blackjack Unmanned Air System team uses a modified truck as a mobile ground control station to conduct a portion of sea based approaches at the UAS Test Directorate (UASTD) at Webster Field Annex, St. Inigoes, Md. in August 2017.  U.S. Navy photo
The RQ-21A Blackjack Unmanned Air System team uses a modified truck as a mobile ground control station to conduct a portion of sea based approaches at the UAS Test Directorate (UASTD) at Webster Field Annex, St. Inigoes, Md. in August 2017. U.S. Navy photo

The RQ-21A Blackjack test team prepares to test unmanned aircraft system's new software build at Webster Field Annex, St. Inigoes, Md. in August 2017. The team completed a portion of traditional sea-based tests in a simulated environment using a truck as a mobile ground control station. U.S. Navy photo
The RQ-21A Blackjack test team prepares to test unmanned aircraft system's new software build at Webster Field Annex, St. Inigoes, Md. in August 2017. The team completed a portion of traditional sea-based tests in a simulated environment using a truck as a mobile ground control station. U.S. Navy photo
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