X-47B completes first sea trials


December 19, 2012

The Northrop Grumman X-47B aboard the USS Harry S. Truman

The Northrop Grumman X-47B aboard the USS Harry S. Truman

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The Northrop Grumman X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator completed its first sea trials aboard the Nimitz-class nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman this week. The unmanned aircraft was shipped aboard the Truman on November 26 and has been subjected to a wide variety of tests to see how the robotic vehicle operates on a warship.

The X-47B wasn’t launched from the carrier during these first sea trials. However, it was run through a series of tests, including being towed by carrier-based tractors, taxiing under the control of an operator using the UAV’s arm-mounted control display unit (CDU) and testing its digital engine controls in areas filled with electromagnetic fields.

None of this may seem very glamorous, but these sea trials are important because operations aboard a warship must occur in very confined spaces on decks that pitch and roll unexpectedly. Even aboard a nuclear carrier like the Truman, every move needs to be carried out like a well-organized ballet with little or no margin for error. Carrier operations are especially difficult because they routinely involve launching and recovering supersonic aircraft around the clock in all manner of sea conditions. One mistake or even delay could result in the loss of an aircraft worth tens of millions of dollars, as well as its crew.

The Northrop Grumman X-47B aboard the USS Harry S. Truman

For this reason, something as simple as how the X-47B handles under a tractor tow or taxis on the flight deck or how nimble it is under command of the CDU is crucial. With an extended wingspan of 62.1 feet (18.92 m), getting the UCAS on deck or out of the way quickly and safely is vital, so the Northrop Grumman engineers and the crew of the Truman are as interested in how the X-47B handles on the hanger deck as they are on how it handles in the sky.

"We validated our capabilities on an aircraft carrier," said Mike Mackey, Northrop Grumman's program director. "We gained a lot of knowledge that we could never have gotten anywhere else except on a carrier. It was perfect for the team. We demonstrated the program's maturity and our team's ability to interact with Sailors and the ship, which was one of the most important things for us to do."

The X-47B will now be returned to Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River where it first got its wings and had its first catapult launch earlier this year. Following further testing, the aircraft is scheduled to embark to another carrier in mid-2013.

The video below shows the X-47B undergoing sea trials.

Source: U.S. 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

Yay! Robots hunting humans!! Go robots!

Think about it, we are simply teaching machines to kill humans. The enemy will do the same and we humans will all be hunted down from above by drones (most likely). Whoever has better or more robots will win the war, but how many humans would remain?


@Goodlife03 - humans control these, FYI.

Derek Howe

@Derek Howe - Not for too much longer. It's only a matter of time (and evolution?) before they are capable of making their own decisions.


Good to see the tests going well. "Goodlife' , sigh....Dude its NOT a robot. Did you even read the article ?

Brian Mcc

were afraid to use nuclear weapons, but not these, and the race has just begun.


Hi Brian, I know it is not a robot yet, give it 2-3 years when an AI algorithm will monitor the video feeds and sensors and automatically destroy vehicles or persons within a "kill zone" that is detected to have weapons or ammo and does not have a friendly beacon signal. My comment was forward looking rather than pertaining to this particular version of the craft...


Think about a human pilot never having to enter into hostile air space again.

David Cole

As an Ex-Sqid it is good to see the Navy finally getting a leg up on the Air Force. Having worked on the flight deck, it seems they are just trying to train and figure out how these aircraft will be controlled on the flight deck. Safely. This is very preliminary since there were only a few aircraft on board during this training. I do notice that at no time were the wings "folded". This is interesting since in the picture of the aircraft on the elevator the wings were not folded. In all my time on the carrier I never saw an aircraft on the elevator without its wings folded. Just normal operating procedure so there is less chance of smashing into something (it happens more than you would think). Makes me wonder if maybe they have not gotten that far.... Tried looking online to find a picture of one with wings folded. I did find one, but it looks like an early mock up, not a functioning unit. If the wings do not fold they are still quite a way from actually using this. At that point it would almost be the X-47C.....
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