Story and photo by U.S. Navy
The U.S. Navy’s unmanned X-47B returned to carrier operations aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) Aug. 17 and completed a series of tests, operating safely and seamlessly with manned aircraft.
Building on lessons learned from its first test period aboard TR in November 2013, the X-47B team is now focused on perfecting deck operations and performing maneuvers with manned aircraft in the flight pattern.
“Today we showed that the X-47B could take off, land and fly in the carrier pattern with manned aircraft while maintaining normal flight deck operations,” said Capt. Beau Duarte, program manager for the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation office. “This is key for the future Carrier Air Wing.”
The first series of manned/unmanned operations began this morning when the ship launched an F/A-18 and an X-47B. After an eight-minute flight, the X-47B executed an arrested landing, folded its wings and taxied out of the landing area. The deck-based operator used newly developed deck handling control to manually move the aircraft out of the way of other aircraft, allowing the F/A-18 to touch down close behind the X-47B’s recovery.
This cooperative launch and recovery sequence will be repeated multiple times over the course of the planned test periods. The X-47B performed multiple arrested landings, catapults, flight deck taxiing and deck refueling operations.
“For this test period, we really focused on integration with manned aircraft,” said Lt. Cmdr Brian Hall, X-47B flight test director. “We re-engineered the tailhook retract actuator and updated operating software to expedite wingfold during taxi, both of which reduce time in the landing area post-recovery. Our goal was to minimize the time in the landing area and improve the flow with manned aircraft in the landing pattern.”
“The X-47B’s air vehicle performance, testing efficiency and safety technologies and procedures developed and tested throughout the program’s execution have paved the way for the Navy’s future carrier-based unmanned system capability,” said Rear Adm. Mat Winter, who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons.
The X-47B will remain aboard CVN 71 for the duration of the underway period. It will perform additional cooperative deck and flight operations with F/A-18s and complete night deck handling and flying quality evaluations.
The Navy will continue X-47B flight operations over the next year to refine the concept of operations to demonstrate the integration of unmanned carrier-based aircraft within the carrier environment and mature technologies for the future Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike system.