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X-47B makes historic carrier launching


May 14, 2013

X-47B  flies over the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) (Photo: US  Navy cour...

X-47B flies over the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) (Photo: US Navy courtesy of Northrop Grumman by Alan Radecki)

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Naval aviation history was made today, as an autonomous unmanned aircraft took off from a US Navy nuclear aircraft carrier in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Virginia. The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator (UCAS-D) took to the air from the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) and is part of a program to develop carrier-based unmanned combat aircraft capable of carrying out missions according to pre-programmed instructions rather than being under constant control by a ground-based pilot.

Launched from the Nimitz Class carrier at 11:18 AM (15:18 GMT) by steam catapult like an operational carrier-based aircraft, the X-47B was controlled by a mission operator aboard the Bush, but also operated autonomously for parts of the test. The drone executed several low-altitude carrier approaches to demonstrate its ability to operate in a carrier environment, then flew across Chesapeake Bay and landed at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, where it has spent the last year conducting shore-based tests.

USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) (Photo: US Navy)
USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) (Photo: US Navy)

During the 65-minute test, the aircraft navigated in the carrier airspace, and control was successfully transferred from the carrier-based mission operator to a shore-based operator.

“Today we saw a small, but significant pixel in the future picture of our Navy as we begin integration of unmanned systems into arguably the most complex warfighting environment that exists today: the flight deck of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier,” said Vice Admiral David Buss, commander, Naval Air Forces, the Navy's “Air Boss."

The X-47B used today was one of two built by Northrop Grumman to demonstrate autonomous carrier operations, including launch, recovery and operations within 50 nautical miles (57.5 mi/92.6 km) of a carrier. One of the two test drones is designed to carry out in-flight refueling tests as well. The intention is that the technology developed for the X-47B will one day lead to autonomous unmanned carrier-based aircraft for surveillance, reconnaissance, and combat duty.

Further takeoff tests will be conducted over the coming weeks, and the X-47B will attempt its first true carrier landing at sea this summer.

Source: US Navy

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy

Launching is one thing (relatively easy).

LANDING is a whole other story and MUCH harder with the ship (and deck) rolling with the wind and rising and falling with each trough and crest of every wave.

Two Replies
14th May, 2013 @ 12:45 pm PDT

Gosh! It is a shame the Navy didn't think of the problems about landing. Cancel the Program.

Robert Walther
14th May, 2013 @ 03:24 pm PDT

Given that high speed missiles can be flown into moving cars I don't think getting the drone to hit the right place on the carrier deck will prove to be an insurmountable obstacle.

14th May, 2013 @ 04:25 pm PDT

Landing on the calm sea and a pitching sea are two different things. They take up space on the AC so they will be limited to calm seas.

S Michael
14th May, 2013 @ 08:24 pm PDT

it has already been done cable arrested landing on land, no pilot on board means a more maneuverable aircraft, this is the future

Bill Bennett
14th May, 2013 @ 08:53 pm PDT

Something like twenty years ago the Navy did some conceptual studies with actual physical tests for capturing a damaged aircraft. Essentially, think of a catchers mitt. Coupled with the normal catch lines this can accommodate any issues with landing. Not having a pilot on board should actually make the solution easier than with piloted aircraft.

15th May, 2013 @ 10:59 am PDT

Hey Russia and China. Y'all perfect the landing so we can steal the knowhow from you and save billions. OK ???

Ron Evans
15th May, 2013 @ 05:45 pm PDT

See 2005 movie STEALTH on DVD, shows similar UAV type then. Sci Fic becomes fact in such a small timeline 2005 to 2013

Stephen N Russell
15th May, 2013 @ 06:38 pm PDT

re; Stephen N Russell

There is huge difference between a drone that can perform some simple functions autonomously and an artificial intelligence that can choose to disobey orders.

16th May, 2013 @ 11:51 am PDT

Re:Ron Evans

The russians can launch a Su 31 (equivalent to f15 ) from the Admiral Kutnesoff deck... Without catapult...

Have also supersonics UAV (operationals... for almost 30 years)

And were able to land a Space Shuttle autonomous 20 years ago...

Yes... They can.... :)

Charlie Nudelman
16th May, 2013 @ 01:20 pm PDT

re; Charlie Nudelman

Su-31 http://www.pilotfriend.com/aircraft%20performance/sukhoi.htm Try again.

Calling the Su-33 an equivalent to the F-15 is like calling A6M Zero an equivalent to the F8F Bearcat.

The catapult launch system allows much lower power to weight aircraft to operate off the carrier.

Making a supersonic drone is no more difficult than making any other supersonic aircraft. it is all a matter of what tradeoffs you make.

The USofA shuttle could land itself 20 years ago as well.

16th May, 2013 @ 06:08 pm PDT

Re Slowburn:


(australians... neutral comparison)

About the supersonic drones?

I say "for almost 30 years" (just imagine... what have they now...)

Think us dont have data neither pics of the Su 27 in the pre-90´s (mainstrean... the intelligence of course yes...) and the have it operational....

Charlie Nudelman
17th May, 2013 @ 10:55 am PDT

PS: Excuseeeeeeeeeee me!!! I mistake the number, is Su 33 (nor 31) :P :D

Charlie Nudelman
17th May, 2013 @ 11:01 am PDT

re; Charlie Nudelman

When Germany was reunited they inherited a bunch of Mig 29 fighters. In evaluations and training it was found that F-4 Phantom II are the better fighter jet.

18th May, 2013 @ 10:06 am PDT

re: Slowburn

Pleaseeeeeeee be serious!!! Was a political choice (they quit ALL the East German armed forces.... and give them the minimun retirement payment..)

The MIG 29 its comparable to F16 (mechanical vs wire... ok...)

But to F-4? the brick that flight? The "easy prey" of Mig 21 in Vietnam ? (of course with a capable pilot...)

Charlie Nudelman
1st June, 2013 @ 02:25 pm PDT
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