X-47 Remains on Schedule for Sea Trials despite First Flight Delay

The roll out of the first X-47B UCAS-D. Photo: Northrop Grumman

The first flight of the U.S. Navy’s X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator has been postponed by several months and will take place at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. in the second quarter of next year (2010). Originally, it was scheduled for late 2009. Naval Air Systems Command UCAS-D program office (PMA-268) and the aircraft designer Northrop Grumman continue pre-flight testing of the aircraft to ensure the system’s readiness to fly early next year.

According to Capt. Martin Deppe, program manager in Patuxent River, Md., the thorough pre-flight tests are required to build confidence in this ‘new class of aircraft’. “The Navy is breaking new ground here, and given both the resulting technical complexity and strategic importance of this program, we’re taking a closer look before first flight to sort out any integration issues. We intend to do it right.” The X-47B will be the first unmanned jet aircraft to take off and land aboard an aircraft carrier. It also will be the first all-new aircraft of any kind to operate on the flight deck in more than 30 years.

Deppe said. The current tests include the X-47B ground-based check-outs, surrogate aircraft flight testing, and lab-based integration testing. Low-speed taxi testing is expected to commence in December 2009. Despite this delay, Deppe is confident the program will remain on-schedule for sea trials in 2012. The unmanned aircraft will demonstrate that a long-range, low-observable, flying-wing unmanned combat aircraft can operate safely from aircraft carriers and refuel in-flight to achieve ultra-long mission endurance.

UCAS-D Marks ‘Sea Change’ in Naval Strike, ISR Capabilities

The introduction of unmanned combat aircraft on board aircraft carriers will open revolutionary new capabilities for military aviation and naval aviation capability in particular. Scott Winship, Northrop Grumman vice president and Navy UCAS-D program manager defines the new capability as ‘sea change in military aviation’. Captain Martin Deppe, the U.S. Navy Unmanned Combat Aircraft System Program Manager explains the Navy’s vision “We look forward to a time when we can introduce a new long range, persistent, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) — strike capability to the carrier decks of tomorrow.”

The first Unmanned Combat Air Systems (UCAS) developed by Northrop Grumman for the U.S. Navy was unveiled on December 16, 2008 at the company’s manufacturing plant at Palmdale, California. The new aircraft, designated the X-47B is the first of two aircraft Northrop Grumman will produce for the Navy to demonstrate unmanned combat aircraft operations from the deck of an aircraft carrier. The Navy awarded the demonstration contract to Northrop Grumman in 2007 and aircraft assembly was completed in just over a year.

Following the roll out, the UCAS will undergo subsystem and structural testing through 2009, leading to the first flight scheduled in fall 2009. Carrier suitability tests and demonstration will be carried out during the sea trials planned to begin in late 2011.

The X-47B UCAS is produced by Northrop Grumman and industry teammates including Dell, Eaton Aerospace, GE Aviation, GKN Aerospace, Goodrich, Hamilton Sundstrand, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Moog, Parker Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney, Rockwell Collins and Wind River.