Anyone who’s seen an aircraft carrier in full operation knows that everything needs to be carried out with absolute precision by a small army of sailors as one plane lands and is hurried aside to make room for the next. To show that its X-47B Unmanned Combat Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) can work in this hectic environment alongside manned aircraft, the US Navy sent it to carry out landing and deck maneuvers aboard an aircraft carrier in concert with an F/A-18 fighter.

So far, the X-47B has executed carrier landings, catapult launches, flight deck taxiing and deck refueling operations aboard an aircraft carrier. In the latest round of tests on Sunday, combined manned/unmanned operations were added to the list when an F/A-18 fighter and an X-47B were launched from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71).

After flying for eight minutes, the drone returned to the carrier, landed, folded its wings, and taxied off the landing area to make way for the fighter to land shortly thereafter. The flight deck maneuvers were carried out by a deck-based operator carrying a portable handling remote control. The control uses the X-47B’s engine thrust to roll the aircraft forward, brake, stop, and turn the nose wheel to steer the tight, precise turns needed to maneuver the aircraft.

"Today we showed that the X-47B could take off, land and fly in the carrier pattern with manned aircraft while maintaining normal flight deck operations," says Captain Beau Duarte, Program Manager, Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation office. "This is key for the future Carrier Air Wing."

The Navy plans to repeat the test multiple times during the present series of sea trials. In addition to carrying out more cooperative deck and flight operations with fighter planes, over the next year the X-47B will also be put to the test in night deck handling and flight evaluations.

Source: US Navy