Sea-Based Aviation, a National Naval Responsibility
The maritime role of the naval aircraft is complex, demanding and unique. The ship has a dominant influence on the design of the aircraft. The largest challenge involves the dynamic interface between aircraft and vessel, requiring a high degree of precision maneuvering to land aboard a moving ship deck in adverse weather and wind. The materials must resist a highly corrosive environment, and the structure must be large enough to perform the mission but have the ability to fold into a small footprint for storage in small hangars with just enough room for critical maintenance.
Air vehicles must be multi-mission capable for a diverse set of mission tasks. Announced as a National Naval Responsibility in 2011, sea-based aviation consists of the operation of aircraft to, from and on various platforms. While traditionally considered in terms of operations from aircraft carriers, sea-based aviation can be more broadly associated with several sea-based platforms and concepts to include operations from:
- Large deck ships (e.g., aircraft carriers, landing platform docks, landing helicopter docks) with substantial deck space for extensive large scale air operations
- Small deck ships (e.g., guided-missile destroyers, littoral combat ships, etc.) normally configured to handle only rotary wing aircraft
- Ships without dedicated takeoff/landing platforms for manned aircraft, such as ships that could support the launch of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by catapults/launch tubes/naval guns, etc.
- Self-deployed sea-based aircraft concepts (e.g., seaplanes, flying boats, win-in-ground effect aircraft, submersible aircraft concepts and other hybrid air/sea concepts)
- Other sea-based platforms (e.g., submarines, submersible and semi-submersible platforms or unmanned vehicles, mobile offshore base concepts, buoys with air vehicle components and unmanned sea based platforms)
Technical Focus Areas
Obstacles to traditional sea-based aviation have been broadly categorized into the following focus areas:
- Propulsion: Inlets and nozzles, turbomachinery, secondary flow components, small engines, environmental interactions, impact loading tolerance and rotordynamics, and thermal management
- Structures: High-loading/light-weight, composite repair, material coatings, corrosion, structural life models
- Aircraft Research: Aerodynamic design, recovery systems, autonomous deck operations, airborne autonomy, relative navigation, air wake interaction
Additional challenges associated with nontraditional sea-based aviation include: UAV launch and recovery, autonomy, high tempo operations; UAV operations from non-aviation ships; and submersible aircraft, hybrid aircraft, powered parafoils, airships, and reconfigurable aircraft operations and maintenance.
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