The Boeing X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator completed its first carrier-based arrested landing on board U.S.S. George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) off the coast of Virginia today.
“It isn’t very often you get a glimpse of the future. Today, those of us aboard U.S.S. George H.W. Bush got that chance as we witnessed the X-47B make its first ever arrested landing aboard an aircraft carrier,” said Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. “The operational unmanned aircraft soon to be developed have the opportunity to radically change the way presence and combat power are delivered from our aircraft carriers.”
The demonstration was the first time a tailless, unmanned autonomous aircraft landed on a modern aircraft carrier. It’s an historic event for naval aviation that Navy leaders believe will impact the way the service integrates manned and unmanned aircraft on the carrier flight deck in the future.
“Today, we witnessed the capstone moment for the Navy UCAS program as the team flawlessly performed integrated carrier operations aboard U.S.S. George H.W. Bush with the X-47B aircraft,” said Capt. Jaime Engdahl, Navy UCAS program manager. “Our precision landing performance, advanced autonomous flight controls and digital carrier air traffic control environment are a testament to the innovation and technical excellence of the Navy and Northrop Grumman team.”
The July 10 landing was the final part of three at-sea test periods for X-47B during the last eight months, culminating a decade of unmanned integration efforts that show the Navy’s readiness to move forward with unmanned carrier aviation, said Rear Adm. Mat Winter, who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons in Patuxent River, Md.
“This demonstration has enabled us to merge industry and government technologies together which will enable the U.S. Navy to pursue future unmanned aviation carrier capabilities,” said Winter, who witnessed the historic landing. “The government engineering and testing team in partnership with our Northrop Grumman team members have matured the technologies in this X-47B system to position us for today’s event, which marks a milestone in naval aviation.”
During today’s testing, the X-47B completed the 35-minute transit from Pax River to the carrier and caught the 3 wire with the aircraft’s tailhook. The arrested landing effectively brought the aircraft from about 145 knots to a full stop in less than 350 feet. Shortly after the initial landing, the aircraft was launched off the ship using the carrier’s catapult. The X-47B then proceeded to execute one more arrested landing.
“We have been using the same [carrier] landing technology for more than 50 years now and the idea that we can take a large UAV and operate in that environment is fascinating,” said Capt. Engdahl. “When I think about all of the hours and all of the work-ups the team put into executing this event, I had no doubt the air vehicle was going to do exactly what it was supposed to do.”
The X-47B spent several weeks aboard aircraft carriers in recent months. The Navy UCAS program successfully completed carrier deck operations aboard U.S.S. Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) last December and aboard Bush in May. During the May underway period, the X-47B completed its first-ever catapult launch. Since then, the integrated test team conducted a number of shore-based arrestments at Pax River in preparation for the demonstration aboard the ship.
“We have learned a lot from our flight deck operations, our shore-based flight test and extensive modeling and simulation,” Engdahl added. “Our team has executed all major program objectives and developed the concept of operations and demonstrated technologies for a future unmanned carrier-based aircraft capability. [Today] we have proven we can seamlessly integrate unmanned systems into the carrier environment.”
From a U.S. Navy news release
Photo by U.S. Navy MC3 Kevin J. Steinberg