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First flight of X-47B unmanned aircraft demonstrator in cruise mode

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October 11, 2011

The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System flying with its landing gear up during a test flight ...

The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System flying with its landing gear up during a test flight at Edwards AFB, Calif.

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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.

The X-47B is being developed as a carrier-based unmanned aircraft offering a maximum refueled range of over 2,000 miles (3,219 km) and an endurance of more than six hours. The demonstrator carries no weapons, but has a full-sized weapons bay and is the same size and weight as the projected operational aircraft in order to provide realistic testing. The latest flight also tested precision navigation hardware and software that will allow the aircraft to land with precision on the moving deck of an aircraft carrier.

The X-47B demonstrator's first flight in cruise configuration

"Last week's flight gave us our first clean look at the aerodynamic cruise performance of the X-47B air system...and it is proving out all of our predictions," said Janis Pamiljans, vice president and Navy UCAS program manager for Northrop Grumman's Aerospace Systems sector. "Reaching this critical test point demonstrates the growing maturity of the air system, and its readiness to move to the next phase of flight testing."

Shore-based carrier suitability testing is due to begin in 2012, after the UCAS-D program begins transitioning aircraft to Naval Air Station, Patuxent River, Maryland, later this year. The three-year test program is set to culminate in sea trials in 2013.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
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11 Comments

Landing gear will not be necessary. These will need to 'nest' so that larger aircraft can deploy a lot of them at once. They need to be cheap (expendable) and deadly. Inflate the airframe into shape. Be creative.

TogetherinParis
11th October, 2011 @ 11:59 pm PDT

re; TogetherinParis

You seemed to fail to understand the X-47 program is not it self a weapon, but a weapon carrier. In other words It is the plane not the missile.

Slowburn
12th October, 2011 @ 05:07 am PDT

In 40 years, there may be few to none manned fighter aircraft: more maneuverable without a pilot experiencing G-lock, and no need for a cockpit structure resulting in increased fuel economy/range/carrying capacity.

Pilots will only be needed for transporting personnel to/fro, not in single fighter aircraft. I, for one, don't want to be a passenger in a robot plane (yet).

Matt Rings
12th October, 2011 @ 01:04 pm PDT

Why do we spend billions upon billions building new weapons and new weapons systems when we need cures to cancer, solutions to climate change, money to bail out shareholders and their banks.

Who is really stupid enough to start a war these days, I mean really. War became obsolete with the invention of the atom bomb; when we first held the power of complete annihilation in our own hands.

Waste of money, but at least the Chinese are still lending to us so we can build this crap lol. Or is the fed simply giving money to Lockheed and co? I wonder sometimes.

Cool plane though, despite my cynicism

cm
12th October, 2011 @ 01:34 pm PDT

So is the manufacture of these fully automated yet?? Also how much longer before Skynet is fully functional and self aware? LOL!

Jeff Black
12th October, 2011 @ 02:34 pm PDT

the last paragraph in the article states that

''The 3-year test program is set to end in sea-trials in 2013''

BUT they will not have the Electric catapults without which they can not launch drones until the 1st new G.R.Ford class Carrier come online ! This is 'projected to be in 2015 !

.

. Just sayin' Big Al

Allen Lumley
12th October, 2011 @ 07:02 pm PDT

Once anti-aircraft lasers are built then all warplanes will be obsolete. Except on really foggy days...

Grunchy
12th October, 2011 @ 10:17 pm PDT

@Grunchy: Foggy day airstrikes would just turn into epic raves. I'd send a uav just to see that.

psychot11
13th October, 2011 @ 09:19 am PDT

I'd like to see these with ram or scram jets. The big aircraft carriers already have slingshot things to rocket aircraft forward, why not beef them up to achieve the speeds for a ram jet ignition? It would be difficult but worth it logistics wise because they wouldn't have to pay for the full turbojet engines. Just the tube, fuel injectors, and spark plugs. The advantages for having ram jets over turbojets are nearly endless, among these are much less maintenance, higher speeds, fuel economy and thus range. Range is the key to why this bomber is autonomous in the first place.

@Grunchy: Did you notice the flying wing configuration? That's called stealth. If the laser operator doesn't know where the plane is or if there is one then it cannot shoot it.

@cm: War and conflict will never be obsolete, there will always be a Bin Laden, communist dictator or a Hitler in some form or another in the world. Fighting may not be the best option, but sometimes it is the only option.

ebrush870
15th October, 2011 @ 12:03 pm PDT

@togetherinparis

I like the way you think.. What is your back ground?

JPLAZ1912
27th October, 2011 @ 08:30 am PDT

@ CM,

The very fact that you feel warfare is obsolete not only illuminates what you don't understand, but also indicates how secure you feel, which is a testament to the effectiveness of the Military.

Burnerjack
26th November, 2011 @ 04:05 pm PST
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