Northrop Grumman Corp., which has a large unmanned aerial vehicle operation in San Diego County, says it worked with the Navy on Feb. 4th to successfully fly its X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System aircraft for the first time. The test flight took place at Edwards Air Force Base, and lasted just under 30 minutes.
Northrop is attempting to develop a multi-purpose UAV for carriers, although it remains unclear whether such aircraft would ever become more than a supplement to a ship’s manned air wing. The weather conditions at sea are often harsher than those on land, raising the question of whether Northrop or other contractors could build UAVs that could reliably launch and return to the ship.
In a joint statement, Northrop and Navy officials said, “The flight is a critical first step for the Navy/Northrop Grumman UCAS-D team toward demonstrating that a tailless, fighter-sized unmanned system can safely land and take off from the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier.
“The flight provided test data that will contribute to the verification and validation of the X-47B’s air vehicle’s guidance and navigation software, and the aerodynamic control of its tailless design.
“First flight represents the culmination, verification and certification of pre-flight system data collected and analyzed by both the Navy and Northrop Grumman. Prior to the flight, the test team demonstrated airworthiness of the airframe through proof load testing; propulsion system reliability through accelerated mission tests; software maturity and reliability through rigorous simulations; and overall system reliability through low speed and high speed taxi tests.
“The UCAS-D program is preparing the X-47B for carrier trials in 2013.