SAN DIEGO, Dec. 2, 2010 -- Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) has completed a flight test demonstration of new software developed for the U.S. Navy's BQM-74E aerial target. The new software allows the target to fly complex fully autonomous missions.
On Oct. 12, a BQM-74E equipped with the company's Programmable Autonomous Waypoint Navigation (PAWN) software successfully completed two of three scheduled test flights. Conducted at Naval Air Warfare Weapons Division test range in Point Mugu, Calif., the first two flights fulfilled all of the program's flight test requirements. The third flight, completed Nov. 17, validated the results of the first two flights.
"The new PAWN software makes the BQM-74E completely autonomous, while enabling it to emulate the most sophisticated tactical threats to Navy ships and aircraft," said Duke Dufresne, sector vice president and general manager of the Strike and Surveillance Systems Division of Northrop Grumman's Aerospace Systems sector. "It also gives the Navy a look at capabilities it can expect to find in next generation target systems."
The Navy's flight test lead, Michael Gorman, credited the PAWN software with meeting all mission objectives. "The tests were 100 percent successful," he said.
The flight test program included 147 performance requirements in addition to enhanced safety features in the first two flights.
Aerial targets are unmanned, aircraft-like systems used by the military to simulate tactical threats posed by enemy aircraft and evasive, sea-skimming missiles. They are typically used to test and evaluate surface ship defensive weapons systems or to train pilots in air-to-air combat techniques. The BQM-74E is the latest in a series of manually-flown targets that Northrop Grumman has converted into an autonomous unmanned system by adding sophisticated control logic.
According to Steve Mastin, director of target programs for Northrop Grumman's Aerospace Systems sector, the PAWN software represents years of development in complex autonomous flight control software for the Navy.
"With PAWN, the BQM-74E can now fly completely autonomously while performing multiple evasive aerial maneuvers," said Mastin. "This includes programmed climbs, dives, speed, time of arrivals, low altitude waypoint control and weaves from 40,000 feet to as low as seven feet off the water. PAWN also allows for more exotic missions with precision 6G turns, serpentine, corkscrew and other evasive maneuvers."
Users can also fly in and out of manual control, transition between missions, override speed or altitude while still flying within its program, he added.
One of the most powerful and time-saving aspects of the new PAWN flight control software is its ability to adjust the target's preprogrammed mission in response to changes in the location and timing of the actual test flight.
"In the past, any delays in launching a target from a moving ship required test conductors to reprogram the target to account for changes in the ship's location during the delay," said Mastin. "With the BQM-74E PAWN software, we can 'nudge and rotate' the mission plan in time/space, moving it farther downrange, for example, or completely rotating the mission 180 degrees."
This "drag and drop" capability, he adds, brings enormous flexibility to the Navy's mission planning process. It minimizes last-minute changes or delays on the test range while maintaining the precision of the programmed mission.
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