Northrop Grumman Corporation and the U.S. Navy offered a glimpse of the future of carrier aviation on Aug. 17 by conducting a series of cooperative flights from the aircraft carrier, USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), using an X-47B Unmanned Air System (UCAS) and an F/A-18 Hornet.
The flights – the first time manned and unmanned carrier aircraft have operated together in the same carrier controlled landing pattern at the same at the same time – took place in the Eastern Atlantic. They offered Northrop Grumman and the Navy an opportunity to collect data that will help reduce risks associated with integrating unmanned aircraft with conventional manned carrier operations.
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“The X-47B has again pushed the boundaries of the UCAS program by demonstrating that it can operate seamlessly with conventional carrier assets in one of the most demanding environments in the world,” said Capt. Beau Duarte, the Navy’s UCAS program manager.
During the flights, the X-47B flew in the landing pattern with the F/18-Hornet at approach speeds of 120 miles per hour, at a pattern altitude of 1,200 feet. Mission operators aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt had full control of the X-47B during flight maneuvers that involved several planned precision approaches to the carrier.
“Today’s operation proved once again that the X-47B is a mature, reliable system that can integrate safely and effectively with manned carrier operations, both on the deck and in the air,” said Carl Johnson, vice president and Navy UCAS program manager, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.
At the completion of the manned/unmanned flight trials, the X-47B landed safely aboard CVN 71, catching and quickly releasing the arresting cable before folding its wings and taxiing clear of the landing area.
Northrop Grumman, the Navy’s UCAS prime contractor, designed and produced the program’s two X-47B air vehicles. Integrated test teams comprising of Northrop Grumman and Navy personnel have performed numerous flight and carrier suitability tests leading up to these trials.
Northrop Grumman’s UCAS industry team includes Pratt & Whitney, GKN Aerospace, Eaton, General Electric, UTC Aerospace Systems, Dell, Honeywell, Moog, Wind River, Parker Aerospace, Sargent Aerospace & Defense, Rockwell Collins and Lockheed Martin.