Unmanned X-47B Begins Envelope Expansion Tests over Edwards

The X-47B demonstrator's first flight in cruise configuration provided an important measure of its maturity and readiness to begin the next phase of flight testing. Photo: Northrop Grumman

The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration aircraft reached a major milestone Sept. 30 when it retracted its landing gear and flew in its cruise configuration for the first time. The flight, conducted at Edwards Air Force Base, also helped validate precision navigation hardware and software that will allow the X-47B to land with precision on the moving deck of an aircraft carrier. “Last week’s flight gave us our first clean look at the aerodynamic cruise performance of the X-47B air system and it is proving out all of our predictions,” said Janis Pamiljans, vice president and Navy UCAS program manager for Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems sector.

The X-47B demonstrator's first flight in cruise configuration provided an important measure of its maturity and readiness to begin the next phase of flight testing. Photo: Northrop Grumman

“Reaching this critical test point demonstrates the growing maturity of the air system, and its readiness to move to the next phase of flight testing” said Pamiljans, The recent flight was part of an on-going “envelope expansion” program for the first of two X-47B aircraft produced by Northrop Grumman for the Navy’s Unmanned Combat Air System Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) program. Envelope expansion flights are used to demonstrate aircraft performance under a variety of altitude, speed and fuel load conditions.

The U.S. Navy/Northrop Grumman Corporation UCAS-D program plans to begin transitioning aircraft to Naval Air Station, Patuxent River, Md. in late 2011 to begin shore-based carrier suitability testing in 2012. The focal point of the program is to demonstrate in 2013 the first aircraft carrier launches and recoveries by a tailless, low-observable-relevant unmanned system.

The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System flew with its landing gear up for the first time on Sept. 7 during a test flight at Edwards AFB, Calif. Photo: Northrop Grumman


  1. Boeing’s X-47b is a waste of time and money when the US already has a stealthy unmanned aerial vehicle with Lockheed’s RQ-170 Sentinel (Beast of Kandahar) as this is something the US military should develop further especially as it has proven to be a valuable asset as it was used in the attempted capture of Osama Bin Laden.

  2. RQ-170 aside…Multifaceted platforms are equally desirable within respective tri-service objectives and projected planning packages. No MQ-1’s on a CVN and borrowing the RQ-170 may not be applicable for SEAD. Hence the need for separate vehicles…
    my .02

  3. @Michael Ma A – The RQ-170 is a land based UAV platform while the X-47B is designed from the ground up to be a carrier based UCAV design (note different acronyms). Even if you cancelled X-47, you would still need to pay for design work to navalise the Sentinel – strengthened landing gear, folding wings, tests for carrier ops, etc, etc, and once all that is done, convert it to a UCAV. So no, it is not a waste of money.

  4. It will be interesting to watch the effects futuristic Unmanned Aerial Combat Aircraft (UACV) programs on USAF Next Generation Bomber (NGB) development; may well turn out to be yet another UACV with much enhanced range and weapons load.


  5. the UCAVs must be designed so that should communications be cut they can still complete their mission, meaning, they must have onboard target and objectives, and possibly software for choosing alternate routes, making evasive manuevers, and deploying counter-measures. No question, this is the natural evolution of the battlefield – but maybe is time for a ban a la chemical weapons? We are really not that far from developing the infrastructure necessary for an AI machine to subjugate its creator. A giant AI machine able to control a mobile phone network ould be annoying. Able to control tanks, planes, tread mounted machine guns, and of course nuclear weapons is another.

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