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In Control -- Boeing's innovative Command & Control system for Unmanned Systems

As the Boeing Phantom Eye liquid hydrogen powered Unmanned Aerial Vehicle gained speed for its historic take-off at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., last month, it was tracked remotely and autonomously directed to fly by a pilot interfacing with a sophisticated command and control system called the Boeing Common Open Mission Management Command and Control system or COMC2.

Lifting off from the lakebed, Phantom Eye’s telemetry and flight data were fed into a the COMC2 system as the unmanned aircraft climbed to its pre-programmed altitude and executed a series of turns.

Robert Horton, Phantom Eye’s project “pilot”, watched the information come in on a COMC2 populated set of displays. “The mechanics of flying are not required from a pilot for autonomous systems, but the mission management is,” Horton said. “The airplane flies quite fine by itself and so we have mission monitoring, control and planning in COMC2, and the pilot’s there to monitor in case something changes, that kind of thing.”

On its orbit 4,080 feet above the mobile flight test center, Paul Pillar, Boeing test conductor for the Phantom Eye project is also watching the first flight. He said the COMC2 system is a critical asset for UAV’s and other unmanned systems.  COMC2 enables a single pilot operator to monitor all aspects of an autonomous vehicles flight and mission operations -- providing the operator with near real-time information to support various decisions that may be required during flight.

The Boeing designed COMC2 system is the core command and control system for a full range of unmanned platforms. The software suite uses a standards based, open architecture enabling rapid updates and changes on the go. The leading edge system also has another important benefit.

“The COMC2 system reduces operator workload,” Pillar said, clicking a mouse and sending a message to the pilot approving Phantom Eye’s flight plan to return to base. “It’s an intricately coordinated and coupled dance, and you have to fuse all sorts of data sources so the airplane and operator is kept in the loop, all of that has got to come together exactly,” Pillar said.