X-47B Naval UCAV Makes Historic First Flight
The first flight of the Northrop Grumman X-47B demonstrator for the U.S. Navy took place at Edwards AFB on February 4. Northrop Grumman which has been working on the Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) contract since August 2007, rolled out the first of two air vehicles in December 2008 and originally predicted a first flight in late 2009. But, as program manager Janis Pamiljans noted, "Designing a tail-less, fighter-sized unmanned aircraft from a clean sheet is no small feat." Northrup Grumman said airframe proof load tests, propulsion system accelerated mission tests, software maturity and reliability simulations, full system taxi test, and numerous other system test activities were all completed and certified before first flight.
The aircraft will remain at Edwards AFB for flight-envelope expansion before transitioning to NAS Patuxent River, Md., later this year. There, preparations to fly the X-47B from an aircraft carrier will be finalized, leading to the first "cat-and-trap" of an autonomous, low-observable unmanned aircraft in 2013. Autonomous aerial refueling will also be performed after carrier integration and at-sea trials.