Development of X-47B Ready to Move Forward

The most recent test flight of the Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base resulted in a new goal being reached in the process of developing the aircraft for use in 2013. The futuristic, somewhat UFO-shaped drone effectively retracted its landing gear, flying in cruise configuration, a new achievement for the engineers. This landmark test flight aided the engineers in validating the precision navigation software and hardware that will be used when the Northrop Grumman X-47B is required to land on the deck of a Navy aircraft carrier.

The Northrop Grumman X-47B is part of the United States Navy Unmanned Combat Air System Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) program. The program was put in place to create unmanned aircraft that are suitable for carriers, developing technologies for Launch, Recovery and Carrier Controlled Airspace procedures, as well as Autonomous Aerial Refueling. Roll out of the vehicle was on 16 December 2008 at Air Force Plant 42, located in California. Since then various tests have taken place in developing the X-47B for the Navy. Sea trials are planned for 2013, following three years of testing at Edwards Air Force Base and Naval Air Station Patuxent River. The demonstration aircraft has the same mass and size as the planned operational vehicle and will be used to display launches and recoveries from carriers, along with inflight refueling.

Northrop Grumman’s X-47B has a wingspan of 62.1 ft, length of 38.2 ft and height of 10.4ft, along with an empty weight of 14,000 lb. The cruise speed is 0.45 mach, with a subsonic maximum speed. The maximum unrefueled range of the aircraft is in excess of 2,000 miles. There are two weapon bays, although it carries no weapons.

Following the successful test flight of the X-47B, Janis Pamiljans, who serves as the vice president of the Navy Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration program for Northrop Grumman, was quoted as saying that the flight provided the team with a look at the X-47B air system’s aerodynamic cruise performance, and all went according to plan. The air system is ready to move on to the following phase of flight testing.