X-47B demonstrator makes first catapult launch


December 2, 2012

Launching crew prepares the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) for its first land-based catapult launch (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Launching crew prepares the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) for its first land-based catapult launch (Photo: U.S. Navy)

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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.

The catapult launch took place on November 29, 2012, and proved the Northrop Grumman-built X-47B was structurally up to the task of withstanding the rigors of such a launch in a carrier environment. It also gave the team another opportunity to demonstrate the precision of the Control Display Unit (CDU), which was used to maneuver the pilotless aircraft into the catapult.

After launch, the X-47B demonstrator flew over Chesapeake Bay, performing a number of maneuvers that simulated tasks it will need to perform when landing on a carrier. These included flying in a typical ship holding pattern, and carrying out a carrier approach flight profile.

Further shore-based catapult launches are planned over the next few weeks, but an X-47B has already been hoisted aboard the USS Harry S. Truman at Naval Air Station in Norfolk, Virginia, in readiness for a series of deck handling trials that will evaluate the performance of the CDU in a carrier environment.

These trials are expected to run until mid December, with the first carrier-based launch, recovery and air traffic control operation demonstrations planned for 2013.

The inaugural catapult launch can be seen in the video below.

Source: Northrop Grumman, U.S. Navy

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

The first big step towards automatic war. No need to send people, just send machines to fight. This will work well for the side that has the best machines, but if the others catch up then wars will be best fought by simply declaring casualties, without the actual fighting. Likely outcomes of conflicts will have to be determined by previous agreement between the combatants, actual people will have to die of course, to keep it fair. This killing will probably have to be done by a third party, also to keep it fair. And maybe a fourth party to monitor the whole thing from a neutral position. If any good can come of "unmanned war", maybe it will be that we will realise how daft it is, and start talking.


Flying Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, eh?

So, would it be any benefit to take the command and control module and make it switchable bewtween machines? Use it for UCAS one day, have it drive an ambulance or ship the next?


Uh... just watched the video. Why does this thing have a windshield? Who'd be looking out from inside?


I would think and also remind everyone that the takeoff from a carrier is the easy part. Landing on a carriers deck underway even in light seas and catching the cable or wire is considerably more of a challenge.


uhh KMH: how about jet intake.


KMH - lol, that not a windshield. It's the air intake for the jet engine.

Derek Howe

It will need a very long tail hook.

David Aldridge

This sort of warfare assumes one will be able to maintain control of the aircraft and not lose it through hacking into your system by the enemy or by destroying your relay satellites. THAT"S were the real war will take place. Good luck!


It might not be in the spec sheet, but I am Pretty sure they are completely, 100% autonomous. no need for any human interference at all. Any mission can be scheduled and submitted and will be executed. you know that feeling you get from an incoming Scud... I look at this and I'm getting that feeling....again...

Michiel Mitchell

The video reminded me of guys playing with model aeroplanes.

Why don't we fight a war, with each side playing a computer game? Whoever wins, wins!

What on earth is the point of two opposing side, sending up unmanned aircraft to fight each other in the middle of nowhere and one of them crashes, defeated, to the ground.

David Clarke
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