PATUXENT RIVER, Md. — The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator successfully completed its inaugural land-based catapult launch here, marking the start of a new era for naval aviation.
“Carrier-based unmanned aircraft will change the concept of operations for the carrier-controlled airspace,” said Rear Adm. Mat Winter, the program executive officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons. “The N-UCAS program’s goal is to demonstrate integration of an unmanned aircraft into a carrier environment and reduce technical risk associated with developing potential future unmanned, carrier-compatible systems.”
The Navy’s first-ever steam catapult launch of the pilotless X-47B ensures the vehicle can structurally handle the rigors of the unique and stringent aircraft-carrier environment.
“The X-47B shore-based catapult launch we witnessed here today will leave a mark in history,” said Vice Adm. David Dunaway, NAVAIR commander. “We are working toward the future integration of unmanned aircraft on the carrier deck, something we didn’t envision 60 years ago when the steam catapult was first built here.”
Since the birth of naval aviation, engineers have relied on experienced test pilots to help evaluate aircraft flying qualities and structural suitability. Today, the Navy UCAS integrated test team relied solely on data from a pre-programmed automated X-47B aircraft to achieve these data points.
“This test, in addition to the extensive modeling and simulation done prior to today, gives us great confidence in the X-47B’s ability to operate on the flight deck,” said Capt. Jaime Engdahl, the Navy UCAS program manager.
The Navy will use the X-47B to demonstrate the first carrier-based launches and recoveries by an autonomous, unmanned aircraft in 2013.
“We are breaking new ground with the development of a carrier-based system that enables launch and recovery support of an unmanned platform off a carrier flight deck,” Engdahl said. “Every test we are conducting at Pax River and at sea is a historic milestone for naval aviation.” (ends) From Northrop Grumman:
Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) and the U.S. Navy have conducted the Navy’s first catapult launch of an unmanned system using the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator.
The test was conducted today at a shore-based catapult facility at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. It marks the first of several shore-based catapult-to-flight tests that will be performed before the Navy’s UCAS Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) program catapult launches the X-47B from a ship.
Northrop Grumman is the Navy’s prime contractor for the UCAS-D program.
“Today’s successful launch is another critical milestone in the carrier-suitability testing phase of the UCAS-D program,” said Mike Mackey, Northrop Grumman’s UCAS-D program director. “It also provides another confidence-building step toward our rendezvous with history next year.”
Following the catapult launch, the X-47B conducted a test flight over Chesapeake Bay near Patuxent River. The flight included several maneuvers designed to simulate tasks that the aircraft will have to perform when it lands on a ship, including flying in a typical ship holding pattern, and executing a carrier approach flight profile. The flight also allowed the test team to gather precision navigation data associated with each of those maneuvers.
According to Daryl Martis, Northrop Grumman’s UCAS-D flight test director, the catapult event was significant for another reason: “Today’s launch provided our team with another opportunity to demonstrate the precision operation of the Northrop Grumman-developed Control Display Unit [CDU], one of the key enablers of future flight deck operations for the X-47B,” he said.
The CDU is a wireless, arm-mounted controller that will allow a flight deck operator to control and maneuver the X-47B on the flight deck, including moving it into the catapult, disengaging it from the carrier’s arresting wires and moving it quickly out of the landing area.
Over the next few weeks, the UCAS-D program expects to conduct several shore-based catapults at Patuxent River. On Nov. 26, an X-47B was hoisted aboard the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) at Naval Air Station, Norfolk, Va. to begin a series of deck handling trials. The trials, expected to run through mid December, will be used to evaluate the performance of the CDU in an actual carrier environment.