Wireless, handheld device for ground control of X-47B unmanned aircraft tested


November 15, 2012

The first shore-based trials of the Control Display Unit (CDU) that wirelessly controls the X-47B on the ground (Photo: Northrop Grumman)

The first shore-based trials of the Control Display Unit (CDU) that wirelessly controls the X-47B on the ground (Photo: Northrop Grumman)

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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 completed the first tests of a wireless, handheld device that will be used to do just that.

In its first shore-based trials carried out earlier this month at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, the handheld device, called a Control Display Unit (CDU), was used to control the X-47B’s engine thrust to roll the aircraft forward, brake and stop, and use its nose wheel steering to execute the tight, precision turns required to maneuver the aircraft into a catapult or out of the landing area following a landing.

Like piloted aircraft, in practice the X-47B will be directed around the carrier deck by a flight deck director (aka a “yellow shirt”) standing in front of the aircraft using traditional hand signals. However, instead of an onboard pilot, a deck operator standing behind the flight deck director will use the CDU to control the aircraft based on the director’s instructions.

The test team also expects the CDU to come in useful in further shore-based carrier suitability testing of the X-47B.

"Instead of towing the aircraft out to the flight line, we can now start the X-47B outside its hangar, then use the CDU to taxi it out to the runway, or into a catapult for launch," said Daryl Martis, Northrop Grumman's UCAS-D test director.. "Use of the CDU is the most time-efficient way to move the X-47B into the catapult or disengage it from the arresting gear after landing."

The first shore-based catapults of the X-47B are set for later this month and will be followed by hoisting it aboard an aircraft carrier to test the performance of the CDU in an actual carrier environment. Demonstrations of full launch, recovery, and air traffic control operations are slated for 2013.

Source: Northrop Grumman

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

everyone knows that the future of the naval air superiority will one day produce a carrier that is dedicated exclusively to unmanned aircraft. it's going to be awesome . an aircraft carrier whose craft pilots never leave the carrier, or whose pilots might even be in command stations in the u.s. , and whose aircraft are either piloted remotely or autonomously.

hard to believe but its going in that direction


So, why not let a computer control the thing to parallel park it on a carrier and feed the meter? And while at it, why not let a computer control all the others too? And why not hand over weapons management? And deployment decisions? And then of course centralize it all, for good measure including all other weapons systems, keep improving computing power and....OH NO!!!!

On August 29, it will again become self-aware....NOOOOOOO!!!!


how would a electric powered front wheel work out?


only the us military would have a yellow shirt stand and gesticulate at an unmanned aircraft while another guy also presumably a yellow shirt stands behind him with a remote and then moves the aircraft around in response to his gesticulations, GIVE THE FIRST GUY THE REMOTE CONTROL. i love our military i do but sometimes they need to pull there heads out. i am sure that this command arrangement has a good reason, and it probably came from on high, but it is going to look so stupid. BTW wasn't it one of these planes that got hacked in flight and stolen by Iran a while back? it seems to me fixing that problem might be higher on my list of things to do


re; drgnfly004

The yellow shirt guiding the plane into the catapult does not need to know what plane is next. He just takes the next plane that comes into position and tells the pilot exactly how to maneuver to put his plane within a few cm of the perfect spot. If the yellow shirt has the remote controller when he switches from one drone to another he would have to correctly switch controller frequency without knowing in advance which drone he is getting. The navy has as few people on deck as they think they can get away with which means that the yellow shirt directing aircraft is thought to be doing as much as can be reasonably expected of a man. So long as there are aircraft on the deck that the remote controller does not control giving him a remote controller would greatly increase the complexity of his job making it 2 difficult for most people 2 do.


Funniest thing I've seen this week. He's signaling a drone. The operators right behind him, at least turn around and make eye contact. This isn't what I consider state of the art. I've watched friends could put a drone in the below deck hanger if they had an open stern, give'em a V-stol, all they'd need would be a spiral staircase. 1 do?

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