Automated Flight Control System

On July 4th, 2012, twenty miles off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Boeing’s Unmanned Little Bird (ULB) program tested and demonstrated a highly precise navigation system for vertical takeoff and landing of an unmanned aerial system (VTOL UAV) in a maritime environment. It was the first time in history such a test had ever been successfully completed on a moving marine platform.

Utilizing NovAtel SPAN GNSS/INS receiver and antenna hardware and our ALIGN® relative positioning firmware, Boeing designed a precise navigation solution to guide its H-6U test helicopter VTOL UAV to a predetermined precision landing anywhere on a ship deck, regardless of deck dimensions.

The complexities of this test were significant. To be successful, the navigation system had to:

  • Cope with the ship’s heli-deck motion at sea: pitch; roll; yaw; heave; sway, and surge
  • Solve the initial GNSS/INS alignment problem (on ship and helicopter), and to address the attitude error convergence/observability problem (on the ship)
  • Determine continuously precise and accurate relative positioning and attitude solution of the helicopter and the ship
  • Ensure the helicopter’s coordinate error follow the ship’s coordinate error to minimize coordinate updates difference