First flight for unmanned combat aircraft

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A stealthy unmanned combat aircraft designed to operate from aircraft carriers has taken its first flight.

The Northrop Grumman Corporation-built US Navy X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) aircraft completed its 29-minute flight at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), California, on 4 February.

‘First flight represents the compilation of numerous tests to validate the airworthiness of the aircraft, and the robustness and reliability of the software that allows it to operate as an autonomous system and eventually have the ability to take off and land aboard an aircraft carrier,’ said captain Jaime Engdahl, the US Navy’s UCAS-D programme manager.

According to Northrop Grumman, the X-47B climbed to an altitude of 5,000ft and flew several racetrack-type patterns before landing. The flight provided test data to verify and validate system software for guidance and navigation, and the aerodynamic control of the tail-less design.

The aircraft will remain at Edwards AFB to expand its performance limits before moving to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, later this year. There, the system will undergo additional tests to validate its readiness to begin testing in the maritime and carrier environment. Carrier trials are anticipated in 2013.

The US Navy awarded the UCAS-D prime contract to Northrop Grumman in August 2007. The six-year contract calls for the development of two X-47B fighter-sized aircraft.

Industry team mates include GKN Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, and Pratt & Whitney.

X-47B Specifications

Length: 38.2ft

Altitude: > 40,000ft

Range: > 2,100nm

Top Speed: High subsonic

Power Plant: Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220U

System Provisions

Autonomous Aerial Refueling Probe & Drogue (USN)

Boom Receptacle (USAF)

Weapons Bays: 4,500lb


Source: Northrop Grumman