Royal Navy Tests Drone Operations On Aircraft Carrier HMS Prince of Wales | Aviation


W Autonomous Systems drone on short final for landing on HMS Prince of Wales. (Royal Navy)

Royal Navy tests pilotless aircraft flown on and off of aircraft carrier for first time.

On Sept. 8, 2023, the Royal Navy announced that an autonomous aircraft had successfully operated from its aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales for the first time. The drone in question is a STOL aircraft with a payload capacity of 100kg and a range of up to 1000km developed by W Autonomous Systems. While previous attempts have been made on the same ship to launch QinetiQ Banshee target drones back in September 2021, this occasion marked the first instance where an autonomous platform took off and landed from the British carrier.

The 10m wingspan drone flew from the Predannack RNAS Culdrose to the carrier out on the Cornish coast and back, delivering supplies to the ship. The twin-engine drone is capable of landing on a mere 150m of runway, which is roughly half of the Queen Elizabeth class carrier’s flight deck.

Whilst the US Navy have been conducting carrier borne UAVs such as the X-47B for a long time, the unique design of the British Queen Elizabeth class carriers pose a different set of requirements. First introduced in service in 2014, the British carrier fleet consists of two carriers: HMS Queen Elizabeth I (R08) and HMS Prince of Wales (R09).

W Autonomous Systems drone on deck of HMS Prince of Wales (Photo: Royal Navy)

Unlike the Catapult-Assisted Take-off but Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) design of US carriers, the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers utilize a Short Take-off Vertical Landing (STOVL) design. Thus, instead of a…

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