Technology developed by Qinetiq has allowed a Harrier jump jet to complete the world’s first automatic vertical landing on a ship. Using position data from GPS receivers aboard the airplane and the ship, the Qinetiq-developed system was able to track the precise relative position of both to allow a successful landing without intervention from the pilot.
The tests are being funded by the U.S. Joint Strike Fighter program and the UK Ministry of Defence combat aircraft integrated project team. The technology is needed because the radar systems onboard carriers used to guide conventional airplanes to auto landings are not accurate enough to bring a short-takeoff vertical-landing (STOVL) aircraft all the way to touchdown. The ability to land the JSF on a ship automatically will allow missions day or night and in weather conditions that would make a normal vertical landing impossible.
The technology developed by UK-based Qinetiq uses datalink to transmit ship position and velocity to the airplane. The flight management system in the cockpit calculates the relative position of the aircraft and ship, constructs a trajectory between the two and from this provides steering commands to the autopilot.