The test flight was the first Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) collaboration
between NSWCDD and Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) assets
from Naval Air Station Patuxent River to meet a crucial requirement in the
"It is our mission goal to continuously mature and contribute our manned
and unmanned aircraft systems and expertise to develop weapon systems and
tactics to ensure advantage to our warfighters," said Gary Kessler, NAWCAD
executive director. "Through NAWCAD and NSWCDD collaboration and mutual
cooperation, we are leveraging our combined intellectual capital, technological
capabilities, and regional resources to foster multi-domain naval integrated
warfighting capability (IWC) advancements which guarantee those advantages are
realized by our Sailors and Marines, and other services."
NAWCAD Unmanned Aerial Systems Test Directorate (UASTD) operators flew the
Israeli-manufactured Aerostar, a 15-foot long aircraft with a 21 foot wing
span, during the testing. It can cruise at speeds up to 62 knots and has an
endurance of nine hours.
"The coordination and effort that led to this testing was
outstanding," said Capt. Pete Nette, Naval Support Activity South Potomac
commanding officer. "Dahlgren has a unique historical pedigree when it
comes to aviation. It's great to see the main runway back in service as NSWCDD
and UASTD work to give warfighters the technology they need to accomplish their
After thunderstorms kept test operations grounded May 21, the Aerostar sped
north down Dahlgren's runway the next morning and began a familiarization
flight. Crews practiced touch-and-go maneuvers, communications checks, and
process and procedure verifications before conducting additional tests in the
restricted NSWCDD airspace.
"This overall test series is just one example of NSWCDD's local weapon
system integration capability, providing the necessary crucial technical and
programmatic risk mitigation prior to system deployment," said Nelson
Mills, senior engineer at NSWCDD.
The colocation of research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) assets
at Dahlgren provides an ideal setting for innovating next-generation combat
systems and overcoming technological obstacles for the Fleet. Reopening the
installation's main runway increases the efficacy of those activities.
"The capability provided by the airfield being co-located with the test
site and range facilities enabled UASTD to provide rapid and flexible test
support and maximal on-station time that would not be possible operating at
Dahlgren from other venues," said James Kushner, UASTD operations officer.
"We look forward to future activities supporting NSWCDD and its customers
as the opportunities arise."
Navy RDT&E professionals say that coordinated efforts like the UAS combat
systems testing can yield superior results for warfighters.
"One of the key strategies to promote Naval Integrated Warfighting
Capability (IWC) is to build on nationally-unique, integrated, and
interoperable test capabilities that can be found both within the Naval Air,
and Naval Surface communities and bring them together," said Peter
Heasley, UASTD technical director. "This test effort exemplifies just that-the
crossing of the air and surface domains and the amazing IWC results that can be
achieved for the warfighter when you find a way to combine the skill sets and
capabilities of an air system team and (incorporate them) with the skill sets
and capabilities that NSWCDD provides the surface community."
NSWCDD extensively tested smaller Group 1 and 2 UAS (less than 50 pounds)
within the restricted airspace above the Potomac River Test Range and Explosive
Experimental Area in recent years, however, this was the first UAS flight in
the national airspace over Dahlgren and its main runway, said Mills.
The Navy collaborated closely with the Federal Aviation Administration to
achieve this milestone event.