Future Navy Drone, X-47B. Development Progresses
In a sign of things to come, a carrier borne drone is closer to proving itself even while a high-endurance maritime surveillance craft, the MQ-4C, takes to the skies for its first flight.
On May 14, Northrop Grumman announced in a press release a successful catapult launch of an X-47B - the first such launch of an unmanned aircraft from a carrier. According to the press release, the tailless, strike-fighter-sized aircraft flew autonomously back to Naval Air Station Patuxent River where it landed safely 65 minutes later. Northrop Grumman is the Navy's prime contractor for the X-47B, UCAS Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) program. The company designed, produced and is currently flight testing two X-47B air vehicles for the program. In December 2012, the program demonstrated that the X-47B aircraft could be maneuvered safely and precisely on a carrier’s flight deck, in its elevators, and in its hangar bay.
Earlier in the month, in a May 6 press release, Northrop Grumman announced conducting the first fly-in arrested landing of the X-47B. The arrested landing test culminates more than three months of shore-based carrier suitability testing at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. The testing included precision approaches, touch-and-go landings, and precision landings by the X-47B air vehicle.
For the arrested landing, the X-47B used a navigation approach that closely mimics the technique it will use to land on an aircraft carrier underway at sea.
Northrop Grumman's UCAS-D industry team includes Pratt & Whitney, GKN Aerospace, Eaton, GE Aviation, UTC Aerospace Systems, Dell, Honeywell, Moog, Lockheed Martin, Wind River, Parker Aerospace and Rockwell Collins.
In related news, Northrop Grumman announced on May 22 completing the MQ-4C Triton UAV’s first flight. The Triton is intended as a Broad Area Maritime Surveillance craft. At 130.9 feet, Triton has a wingspan larger than the world's most common commercial airliner, the Boeing 737, according to Northrop Grumman. Combined with an efficient engine and other aerodynamic design features, Triton can fly 11,500 miles without refueling.
Northrop Grumman's Triton industry team includes Aurora Flight Sciences, BAE Systems, Curtis-Wright Corporation, L3 Communications, Raytheon, Rolls-Royce, Sierra Nevada Corporation and Vought Aircraft Industries.