By Kalwinder Kaur
The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator constructed by Northrop Grumman has succeeded in accomplishing its historic first flight from Naval Air Station Patuxent (Pax) River.
Northrop Grumman, U.S. Navy Conduct First East Coast Flight of X-47B Autonomous Unmanned Aircraft
Following its transport from Edwards Air Force Base, California to the Navy base, this tailless, strike-fighter-sized UCAS successfully achieved the 36-minute flight on July 29. This is the first time that a tactical unmanned aircraft has ever been fully integrated within the air traffic patterns and the Pax River flight test complex’s command and control structure.
Northrop Grumman serves to be Navy's major contractor for the Navy's UCAS Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) program. Two X-47B demonstrator aircraft were designed and developed by Northrop on behalf of the program, directed by Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR).
The flight included two precision racetrack patterns over the Chesapeake Bay, during which the aircraft attained a maximum air speed of 180 knots, and a maximum altitude of 7,500 ft. Here, the aircraft's aerodynamic performance, and the high-efficiency of its propulsion and flush air data systems were validated. The aircraft was determined to have responded right to the commands from its onboard guidance, navigation and control system.
The aircraft interacted with a shore-based version of the aircraft carrier systems, during the flight. This communication will enable the X-47B to have accurate landings on the carrier deck based in the Pax River Navy UCAS Aviation/Ship Integration Facility.
During 2013, the UCAS-D program intends demonstrating the safe operational potential of the X-47B from a Navy aircraft carrier. Launch, recovery, and air traffic control operations will be included in demonstration. Autonomous aerial refueling will be demonstrated in 2014. Also, technologies for potential future Navy unmanned air system programs will also be upgraded in this program.