Northrop Grum­man X-47B UCAS com­pletes first cat­a­pult launch


Northrop Grum­man Cor­po­ra­tion and the US Navy have launched a new chap­ter in the his­tory of un­manned sys­tems, car­rier-ca­pa­ble un­manned air­craft, by suc­cess­fully cat­a­pult­ing the X-47B un­manned com­bat air sys­tem (UCAS) demon­stra­tor from the deck of the USS Ge­orge HW Bush (CVN-77).

The launch oc­curred at 11:18 a.m. on May 14, while the car­rier was un­der way off the coast of Vir­ginia. The tail­less, strike-fight­er­sized air­craft flew au­tonomously back to Naval Air Sta­tion Patux­ent River where it landed safely 65 min­utes later. “To­day’s cat­a­pult launch of the X-47B is a mo­men­tous feat for naval avi­a­tion,” said Cap­tain Jaime Eng­dahl, Navy UCAS Pro­gram Man­ager for the Naval Air Sys­tems Com­mand. “It proves that the Navy’s goal of op­er­at­ing un­manned sys­tems safely and ef­fec­tively from air­craft car­ri­ers is well on its way to be­com­ing a re­al­ity.”

Northrop Grum­man is the Navy’s prime con­trac­tor for the UCAS Car­rier Demon­stra­tion (UCAS-D) pro­gramme. The com­pany de­signed, pro­duced and is cur­rently flight test­ing two X-47B air ve­hi­cles for the pro­gramme. Air Ve­hi­cle 2 com­pleted the cat­a­pult shot. “Cat­a­pult­ing the un­manned X-47B off the USS Ge­orge H.W. Bush is an event as his­toric as the Navy’s first cat­a­pult of a manned air­craft, which oc­curred in Novem­ber 1915 from the ar­moured cruiser USS North Carolina (ACR-12),” said Carl John­son, Vice Pres­i­dent and Navy UCAS Pro­gram Man­ager for Northrop Grum­man. “We are de­lighted to help launch this new era of naval ca­pa­bil­ity.”

The X-47B cat­a­pult launch oc­curred a day af­ter the USS Ge­orge H.W. Bush de­parted from Naval Air Sta­tion Nor­folk, Vir­ginia. The cur­rent at-sea pe­riod is the sec­ond such test pe­riod for the UCAS-D pro­gramme. In De­cem­ber 2012, the pro­gramme hoisted an X-47B air­craft aboard the USS Harry S. Tru­man (CVN-75), then demon­strated that the air­craft could be ma­noeu­vred safely and pre­cisely on the ship’s flight deck, in its el­e­va­tors and in its han­gar bay.

In prepa­ra­tion for the launch, the UCAS-D pro­gramme suc­cess­fully com­pleted a se­ries of shore-based cat­a­pult shots at Naval Air Sta­tion Patux­ent River be­tween Novem­ber and March. The air ve­hi­cle was trans­ported by barge from Patux­ent River to Naval Air Sta­tion Nor­folk in early May, then hoisted aboard the ship.

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