VIDEO: Aircraft drone lands on UK’s HMS Prince of Wales

A pilotless plane has flown on and off a Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales for the first time.

Royal Navy

The W Autonomous Systems (WAS) drone flew from the Lizard Peninsula and on to the deck of HMS Prince of Wales off the Cornish coast, delivered supplies, then flew back in a milestone flight which points the way to the future of naval aviation.

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The goal is to deploy drones with a UK Carrier Strike Group in the future, using them to transfer stores and supplies, such as mail or spare parts, between ships, without the need to launch helicopters.

According to the navy, drones are cheaper to operate, eliminate any potential risk to aircrew, such as in bad weather.

Its HCMC twin-engine light alloy twin boom aircraft is capable of carrying a payload of 100kg up to 1,000 kilometres (620 miles). Crucially it can land on uneven ground and needs a runway just 150 metres long – a little over half the length of the flight decks on the UK’s Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers – to land or take off.

After extensive preparations ashore by the combined RN and WAS trials team, and attaining endorsements and authorisations from the Civil Aviation Authority, the HCMC drone took off from Predannack, the satellite airfield of RNAS Culdrose, and after a flight of about 20 minutes, touched down safely on the HMS Prince of Wales’ deck.

HMS Prince of Wales has experimented with drone technology before – notably small quadcopters and Banshee targets (small jets which are launched by catapult and parachutes down to land when the mission is complete).

But the trials off the Lizard are in a different league, involving a much larger (ten-metre wingspan), more capable pilotless aircraft.

“HMS Prince of Wales is a fifth-generation aircraft carrier and operating autonomous drones like this will become the norm across future Royal Navy Carrier Strike Groups in our 50-year lifespan,” Richard Hewitt, Commanding Officer HMS Prince of Wales said.

HMS Prince of Wales will be operating off the Eastern Seaboard of the USA until Christmas as she conducts experiments with F-35 Lightning stealth fighters, MV-Osprey tilt-rotors, and the Mojave drone.