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U.S. Navy X-47B Unmanned Combat Aircraft Completes First Flight
First-of-its-kind, tailless aircraft moves closer to carrier trials in 2013.
By Robotics Trends Staff - Filed Feb 09, 2011

On February 4, 2011, Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy helped launch the next century of naval aviation with the successful first flight of the X-47B Unmanned Combat Aircraft. Conducted at Edwards AFB, Calif., the 29-min flight is a critical first step toward demonstrating that a tailless, fighter-sized unmanned aircraft can safely operate from the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier.

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The U.S. Navy’s X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) aircraft, built by Northrup Grumman Corp. (NOC) successfully completed its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), Calif., February 4th.

Conducted by a U.S. Navy/Northrop Grumman test team, the flight took off at 2:09 p.m. PST and lasted 29 minutes. The event marks a critical step in the program, moving the team forward to a future demonstration in which a tailless fighter-size unmanned aircraft will take off from and land on the deck of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.

“First flight represents the compilation of numerous tests to validate the airworthiness of the aircraft, and the robustness and reliability of the software that allows it to operate as an autonomous system and eventually have the ability to take-off and land aboard an aircraft carrier,” said Capt. Jaime Engdahl, the Navy’s UCAS-D program manager.

Taking off under hazy skies, the X-47B climbed to an altitude of 5,000 feet, flew several racetrack-type patterns, and landed safely at 2:38 p.m. PST. The flight provided test data to verify and validate system software for guidance and navigation, and the aerodynamic control of the tailless design.

As with all test programs, first flight represents the culmination, verification and certification of pre-flight system data collected and analyzed by both the Navy and Northrop Grumman. Airframe proof load tests, propulsion system accelerated mission tests, software maturity and reliability simulations, full system taxi tests, and numerous other system test activities were all completed and certified prior to first flight.

The aircraft will remain at Edwards AFB for flight envelope expansion before transitioning to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., later this year. There, the system will undergo additional tests to validate its readiness to begin testing in the maritime and carrier environment. The UCAS-D program is preparing the X-47B for carrier trials in 2013.

The Navy awarded the UCAS-D prime contract to Northrop Grumman in August 2007. The six-year contract calls for the development of two X-47B fighter-sized aircraft. The program will demonstrate the first-ever carrier launches and recoveries by an autonomous, unmanned aircraft with a low-observable-relevant platform. Autonomous aerial refueling will also be performed after carrier integration and at-sea trials.

Northrop Grumman’s industry team includes GKN Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney, Eaton, GE, Hamilton Sundstrand, Dell, Honeywell, Goodrich, Moog, Wind River, Parker Aerospace and Rockwell Collins.


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