X-47B aircraft

The Northrop Grumman-built X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator (UCAS-D) has successfully completed its first carrier-based catapult launch from the US Navy’s Nimitz-class super carrier, USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), off the coast of Virginia, US.

During the 65-minute flight, the strike-fighter-sized aircraft carried out several planned low approaches to the carrier, before landing safely at the Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River in Maryland, US.

The successful launch also proved the team’s ability to accurately navigate the X-47B within the controlled airspace around an aircraft carrier, and seamlessly pass control from a ‘mission operator’ aboard the ship to the Mission Test Control Center at Patuxent River for landing.

Navy UCAS programme lead test engineer Matt Funk said: "The flight today demonstrated that the X-47B is capable of operation from a carrier, hand-off from one mission control station to another, flight through the national airspace, and recovery at another location without degradation in safety or precision."

Prior to catapult launch, the UCAS team also carried out deck-handling and ship-integration testing to ensure safe operation of X-47B in the unfavourable environment of an aircraft carrier flight deck.

The aircraft will conduct additional shore-based testing at NAS Patuxent River over the next few months, in preparation for its final carrier-based arrested landing demonstration, which is scheduled to take place later this year.

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As UCAS Carrier Demonstration programme’s prime contractor, Northrop has designed, manufactured and is currently flight testing two X-47B air vehicles, in collaboration with other UCAS-D industry team partners.

The partners include Pratt & Whitney, GKN Aerospace, Eaton, GE Aviation, UTC Aerospace Systems, Dell, Honeywell, Moog, Lockheed Martin, Wind River, Parker Aerospace and Rockwell Collins.

Image: An X-47B UCAS demonstrator prepares to launch from USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). Photo: US Navy photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman by Alan Radecki/Released.

Defence Technology