Northrop Grumman has delivered two X-47B
Unmanned Combat Aircraft Systems (UCAS) to the US Navy, which has begun three weeks of tests aboard the USS Truman – the first aircraft carrier to host test operations for an unmanned aircraft. The X-47B is based on the Pegasus X-47A (originally designed in 2001) but features improved landing gear and folding wings for work aboard carriers.
The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator has taken yet another step on the path towards unmanned aircraft operating amongst piloted aircraft on a carrier deck with its first ever steam-powered catapult launch. While the inaugural launch was conducted on land at a shore-based catapult facility at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, it gives the team confidence as it progresses towards a planned launch from a carrier next year.
While impressive, unmanned flight
is just one of the capabilities required of the Northrop Grumman-built X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) if it is to enter service with the U.S. Navy. Prior to and after any flights, the aircraft also needs to be safely maneuvered around the crowded deck of an aircraft carrier. Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy have taken the first step towards this with the demonstration of a wireless, handheld device that will allow deck operators to remotely control the aircraft on a carrier deck.
Following the completion of airworthiness flight tests
at Edwards Air Force Base in California on May 15, the second Northrop Grumman-built X-47B
Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator was transported cross-country to Naval Air Station Patuxent (Pax) River in Maryland where it has just conducted the first flight at its new home.
The Northrop Grumman-built X-47B has passed the latest checkpoint on its flight path towards becoming the first carrier-based, tailless, fighter-sized, unmanned aircraft in the U.S. Navy’s arsenal with the successful conclusion of the first major phase of flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base (EAFB) in California.
Having completed its first flight
earlier this year, the Northrop Grumman-built U.S. Navy X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) aircraft achieved another milestone on September 30 with its first flight in cruise mode. Part of the on-going “envelope expansion” program to demonstrate the aircraft’s performance under a variety of altitude, speed and fuel load conditions, the flight took place at Edwards Air Force Base and saw the aircraft retracting its landing gear and flying in cruise configuration for the first time.
No matter how I look at this, it still seems like science fiction – a combat aircraft without a pilot that is capable of flying itself, making its own decisions, recognizing and neutralizing threats, and taking off and landing on an aircraft carrier. Last Friday (Feb 4), the Northrop Grumman
-built U.S. Navy X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) aircraft successfully completed its historic first flight at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The era of the unmanned combat plane is fast approaching.