The U.S. Navy and prime contractor Northrop Grumman completed the first at-sea deck handling tests of the X-47B unmanned combat air system (UCAS) demonstrator last month. The demonstrator aircraft, one of two built for the program, performed numerous activities aboard the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman both in port at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., and during the 15-day test phase at sea.
Northrop Grumman said the exercises demonstrated the ability to maneuver the tailless, fighter-sized UCAS quickly and precisely on the carrier’s flight deck using a wireless handheld controller. The first carrier landings of the X-47B are planned for this summer.
The AV-2 demonstrator began the deck handling tests on November 28, one day after being hoisted onto the Truman. The aircraft performed the first powered flight deck taxi test on December 1 while the carrier was in port and the first taxi at sea on December 9 off the coast of Virginia. During the seagoing phase, the X-47B was maneuvered to the ship’s catapults, taxied over arresting cables and moved up and down elevators between the flight deck and the hangar bay. The testing included communication and telemetry checks, fueling operations and use of the aircraft’s digital engine controls in the presence of electromagnetic fields. “We’ve learned a lot about the environment that we’re in and how compatible the aircraft is with a carrier’s flight deck, hangar bays and communication systems,” said Don Blottenberger, the Navy’s UCAS program manager.
The X-47B returned to Norfolk on the carrier on December 18. It was transported by barge to the naval air station at Patuxent River, Md., where shore-based carrier suitability testing continues. “With tremendous enthusiasm, the entire crew was extremely excited to be a part of this testing,” said Capt. S. Robert Roth, the Truman’s commanding officer. “There was obvious curiosity about the aircraft and pride to be part of naval aviation history.”