The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle-Navy
Unmanned aircraft now are on the verge of joining the carrier air wings of the future.
An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator completed its first arrested landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) in July 2013. The landing marked the first time any unmanned aircraft had completed an arrested landing at sea.
(U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Kevin J. Steinberg)
On 10 July 2013, the X-47B launched from Naval Air Station Patuxent River and landed on the deck of the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 78), conducting the first arrested landing of an unmanned air vehicle on an aircraft carrier at sea.
The program began in 1999 as a join Defense Advanced Research Projects/Office of Naval Research effort called the Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle-Navy (UCAV-N) demonstrator, which included technology development in the areas of aerodynamics and flight control, intelligent autonomy, human-machine interface, and low-signature air vehicle design. Significant challenges were involved in applying new technology to the unique and specialized environment of aircraft carriers.
The demonstrator program also designed and began fabrication of the Northrop Grumman X-47B. This combat air vehicle accomplished many significant “firsts” associated with aircraft carrier unmanned vehicle operations: flight control of a stealthy tail-less air vehicle, carrier- based command and control, highly reliable and precise ship-relative navigation, autonomous arrested landing and catapult launch, and flight deck maneuvering. In addition, the X-47B was designed with an air-to- air refueling capability, and completed an automated demonstration in flight in April 2015.
The culmination of many decades’ worth of advances in unmanned flight, autonomy, and avionics, the success of the X-47B has made it possible to contemplate unmanned aircraft participating in the full range of missions—from strike to aerial refueling to reconnaissance—once reserved only for manned aircraft.