X-47B drone makes its first car­rier land­ing

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The X-47B un­manned com­bat air sys­tem (UCAS) demon­stra­tor com­pleted its first car­rier-based ar­rested land­ing on board USS Ge­orge H.W. Bush (CVN 77) off the coast of Vir­ginia on July 10. “It isn’t very of­ten you get a glimpse of the fu­ture. To­day, those of us aboard USS Ge­orge H.W. Bush got that chance as we wit­nessed the X-47B make its first ever ar­rested land­ing aboard an air­craft car­rier,” said Sec­re­tary of the Navy Ray Mabus. “The op­er­a­tional un­manned air­craft soon to be de­vel­oped have the op­por­tu­nity to rad­i­cally change the way pres­ence and com­bat power are de­liv­ered from our air­craft car­ri­ers.”

The demon­stra­tion was the first time a tail­less, un­manned au­ton­o­mous air­craft landed on a mod­ern air­craft car­rier. This test marks an his­toric event for naval avi­a­tion that Navy lead­ers be­lieve will im­pact the way the Navy in­te­grates manned and un­manned air­craft on the car­rier flight deck in the fu­ture.

“To­day we wit­nessed the cap­stone mo­ment for the Navy UCAS pro­gramme as the team flaw­lessly per­formed in­te­grated car­rier op­er­a­tions aboard USS Ge­orge H.W. Bush with the X-47B air­craft,” said Cap­tain Jaime Eng­dahl, Navy UCAS Pro­gram Man­ager. “Our pre­ci­sion land­ing per­for­mance, ad­vanced au­ton­o­mous flight con­trols and dig­i­tal car­rier air traf­fic con­trol en­vi­ron­ment are a tes­ta­ment to the in­no­va­tion and tech­ni­cal ex­cel­lence of the Navy and Northrop Grum­man team.”

The July 10 land­ing was the be­gin­ning of the fi­nal part of three at-sea test pe­ri­ods for X-47B dur­ing the last eight months, cul­mi­nat­ing a decade of Navy un­manned in­te­gra­tion ef­forts that show the Navy’s readi­ness to move for­ward with un­manned car­rier avi­a­tion says Rear Adm. Mat Win­ter, who over­sees the Pro­gram Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fice for Un­manned Avi­a­tion and Strike Weapons in Patux­ent River, Mary­land.

“This demon­stra­tion has en­abled us to merge in­dus­try and govern­ment tech­nolo­gies to­gether which will en­able the US Navy to pur­sue fu­ture un­manned avi­a­tion car­rier ca­pa­bil­i­ties,” said Win­ter, who wit­nessed the his­toric land­ing. “The govern­ment en­gi­neer­ing and test­ing team in part­ner­ship with our Northrop Grum­man team mem­bers have ma­tured the tech­nolo­gies in this X-47B sys­tem to po­si­tion us for to­day’s event, which marks a mile­stone in naval avi­a­tion.”

The X-47B com­pleted the 35-minute tran­sit from Pax River to the car­rier and caught the 3 wire with the air­craft’s tail­hook. The ar­rested land­ing ef­fec­tively brought the air­craft from ap­prox­i­mately 145 knots to stop in less than 350 feet.

Shortly af­ter the ini­tial land­ing, the air­craft was launched off the ship us­ing the car­rier’s cat­a­pult. The X-47B then pro­ceeded to ex­e­cute one more ar­rested land­ing.

The X-47B spent sev­eral weeks aboard air­craft car­ri­ers in re­cent months. The Navy UCAS pro­gramme suc­cess­fully com­pleted CVN deck op­er­a­tions aboard USS Harry S. Tru­man (CVN 75) in De­cem­ber 2012 and aboard Bush in May. Dur­ing the May un­der­way pe­riod, the X-47B com­pleted its first-ever cat­a­pult launch. Since May, the in­te­grated test team con­ducted a num­ber of shore-based ar­rest­ments at Pax River in prepa­ra­tion for the demon­stra­tion aboard the ship.

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