Testing of the X-47B completed an important test series this week aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). On Aug. 17, 2014 the drone demonstrated that it can operate safely and seamlessly with manned aircraft. The flights – the first time manned and unmanned carrier aircraft have operated together in the same carrier controlled landing pattern at the same time – took place in the Eastern Atlantic. They offered Northrop Grumman and the Navy an opportunity to collect data that will help reduce risks associated with integrating unmanned aircraft with conventional manned carrier operations.
Building on lessons learned from its first test period aboard the Roosevelt in November 2013, the X-47B team is now focused on perfecting deck operations and performing maneuvers with manned aircraft in the flight pattern.
Today we showed that the X-47B could take off, land and fly in the carrier pattern with manned aircraft while maintaining normal flight deck operations. This is key for the future Carrier Air Wing.
Demonstrating key parts of flight integration of an unmanned system into the carrier air wing, an X-47B followed an F/A-18 Hornet taking off from the carrier deck. Soon after as the two were coming to land, the Hornet flew 90 seconds behind the X-47B in all but standard carrier recovery pattern. The 90 second lapse would enable the X-47B to land, raise its hook, fold its wings and be taxied out of the landing area to clear the deck for the F/A-18 to follow, just like any other manned aircraft does.
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“Today we showed that the X-47B could take off, land and fly in the carrier pattern with manned aircraft while maintaining normal flight deck operations,” said Capt. Beau Duarte, program manager for the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation office. “This is key for the future Carrier Air Wing.” The X-47B will remain aboard CVN 71 for the duration of the underway period. It will perform additional cooperative deck and flight operations with F/A-18s and complete night deck handling and flying quality evaluations.
This cooperative launch and recovery sequence will be repeated multiple times over the course of the planned test periods. The X-47B performed multiple arrested landings, catapults, flight deck taxiing and deck refueling operations.
“For this test period, we really focused on integration with manned aircraft,” said Lt. Cmdr Brian Hall, X-47B flight test director. “We re-engineered the tailhook retract actuator and updated operating software to expedite wingfold during taxi, both of which reduce time in the landing area post-recovery. Our goal was to minimize the time in the landing area and improve the flow with manned aircraft in the landing pattern.”
The Navy will continue X-47B flight operations over the next year to refine the concept of operations to demonstrate the integration of unmanned carrier-based aircraft within the carrier environment and mature technologies for the future Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike system.
“The X-47B’s air vehicle performance, testing efficiency and safety technologies and procedures developed and tested throughout the program’s execution have paved the way for the Navy’s future carrier-based unmanned system capability,” said Rear Adm. Mat Winter, who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons.[/ismember]