The first of two Northrop Grumman X-47B Unmanned Combat Aircraft System-Demonstration (UCAS-D) air vehicles built for the U.S. Navy has been successfully flown at Edwards AFB, California. Aircraft carrier demonstration sea trials will follow after thorough flight testing of the X-47B unoccupied UCAS-D air vehicles is complete.
The X-47B UCAS-D air vehicles are strike fighter size and are powered by single non-afterburning 16,000-pound-thrust Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220U turbofan engines for their high subsonic maximum speed. They are 38.2 feet long, 10.4 feet high with an unfolded wingspan of 62.1 feet (30.9 feet folded). They have a range of 2,100 nautical miles, a combat radius of 1,500nm and ferry range of 3,500-plus nm. They will be able to fly at altitudes of more than 40,000 feet and carry 4,500-pound internal payloads in two side-by-side weapon bays. The production version, if built, will feature autonomous aerial refueling using the U.S. Navy probe and drogue and/or U.S. Air Force boom receptacle aerial refueling systems.
The X-47B is the follow-on to the earlier X-47A Pegasus Unmanned Combat Aircraft Vehicle (UCAV) program. The X-47B UCAS-D was selected over the navalized X-45C demonstrator offered by Boeing in the earlier Joint-Unmanned Combat Aircraft System program.
The U.S. Navy plans to have combat-capable derivatives of the X-47B in operational service by the year 2020 if flight test and carrier trials prove successful.—Steve Pace