The U.S. Navy recorded another first on May 14 when it conducted the first catapult launch of the Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned combat air system demonstrator (UCAS-D) from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush under way off the coast of Virginia.
The tail-less, fighter-sized UCAS launched from the carrier deck at 11:18 a.m. and performed two low approaches to the carrier for systems checks. It then flew autonomously across the Chesapeake Bay and landed at the Patuxent River, Md., Naval Air Station. The total flight time was about 65 minutes. The X-47B weighed 41,000 pounds at launch and reached a flyaway end speed of 171 knots, said Capt. Jaime Engdahl, the Navy’s UCAS program manager.
Deck and mission operators controlled the aircraft at takeoff and handed it off to a mission operator at NAS Patuxent River, who controlled the aircraft’s landing.
“This is an inflection point in naval aviation,” Engdahl told reporters during a conference call on May 15. “It allows us to prove conclusively that large unmanned systems can work from the deck of aircraft carriers, and it shows that we have great capability to develop future systems to increase the effectiveness and the range of the carrier battle group.”
Engdahl said the X-47B will perform several more demonstration events over the next two months. The aircraft was to return to the ship this week and perform multiple approaches and touch-and-goes on the carrier deck, then fly back to NAS Patuxent River. “That is the most technologically demanding and significant portion (of testing)–actually touching down on a moving flight deck and then continuing to roll down the center line of the runway while the aircraft and the carrier are pitching and rolling,” he said.
The Navy plans to conduct the aircraft’s first ship-based arrested landing this summer; it accomplished the first shore-based arrested landing at Patuxent River on May 4.