U.S. Navy Tests for Carrier-Based UAV Operations

 - July 27, 2012, 11:42 AM
In this artist’s impression, an unmanned X-47B takes off from an aircraft carrier. The U.S. Navy is testing operations software on the USS Harry S. Truman, ahead of next year’s flight trials. (Image: Northrop Grumman)

The U.S. Navy is testing software aboard the USS Harry S. Truman to validate the concept of autonomous UAV operations around an aircraft carrier at sea. The service is conducting the carrier integration testing to prepare for the arrival of the Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned combat air system demonstrator (UCAS-D), which is expected to begin operations from a carrier next year.

During July, the UCAS-D carrier integration team “engaged in extensive software testing” aboard the Nimitz-class nuclear carrier, according to the Naval Air Systems Command (Navair). The team gathered information on operating UAVs in the carrier environment from both fleet air traffic controllers and the carrier’s air department responsible for landing and launching operations.

The Navy and Northrop Grumman concluded the first major flight-test phase of the X-47B on May 15 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The airworthiness test phase comprised 23 flights by two air vehicles. During this phase, the X-47B flew to altitudes exceeding 15,000 feet and demonstrated carrier-relevant maneuvers, including extending and retracting a tail hook and completing an autonomous “touch-and-go” landing, Northrop Grumman said.

Last year, the carrier integration team conducted surrogate testing aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower with a manned F/A-18 to evaluate ship systems, avionics and early versions of the X-47B software. That effort continues on the Truman with the F/A-18 and the latest X-47B software and hardware configuration, Navair said. Carrier suitability and system performance testing with the two X-47B air vehicles is being done at the Patuxent River, Md., Naval Air Station. Following the carrier operations next year, the demonstration of autonomous aerial refueling by the X-47B is planned in 2014.