February 24, 2004 Northrop Grumman has announced details of the first flight of its experimental Pegasus unmanned air vehicle (UAV). The 12- minute flight took place at a naval airbase in California on 23 February and met all test objectives including low-speed handling, navigation performance, data collection and a pinpoint landing designed to simulate the tail-hook arrestment point on a carrier flight deck. Described as a significant milestone in autonomously controlled flight, Northrop Grumman designed and built the Pegasus X-47A with its own funds to demonstrate its low-cost unmanned vehicle management capabilities.
The Pegasus incorporates a tail-less aerodynamic design enabling autonomous launch and recovery from an aircraft carrier.
A shipboard-relative global positioning satellite system was used in the test flight as the primary navigation source.
Lessons learned from the development and testing of Pegasus will be used to support development of Northrop Grumman's naval unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV-N) program for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the U.S. Navy.
Built largely with composite materials and powered by a Pratt & Whitney JT15D-5Cengine providing 3,200 pounds of thrust, Pegasus measures 8.4 metres feet long with a nearly equal wingspan of 8.3 metres.
The X-47A incorporates advanced autonomous flight control laws to account for directional control of its tailless design.
"The Pegasus program represents our commitment to significantly reduce the risk for our DARPA and Navy customers on the UCAV-N program," said Gary W. Ervin, Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems sector vice president for Air Combat Systems.
"Regular unmanned flight operations aboard a flight deck at sea have never been attempted, and Pegasus addresses some of those key concerns".