X-47B makes first carrier-style arrester landing

The robot apocalypse came a step closer as Northrop Grumman and the US Navy carried out a successful carrier-style landing of the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator.

The test, which was carried out on May 4 at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, used a land-based version of an aircraft carrier cable-arrested landing system as the beginning of the final phase of testing prior to carrier-based trials planned for later this month.

Landing on an aircraft carrier is one of the most hair-raising maneuvers a pilot can carry out. Even the most jaded has sweaty palms while guiding in a 60-million dollar aircraft at hundreds of miles an hour to land on a flight deck that looks about the size of a chocolate bar. Watching an autonomous unmanned aircraft try the same thing is almost as bad, but if combat UAVs like the X-47B are to become part of the fleets of the future, they’ll need to master the art so they don’t end up as piles of high tech scrap.

Saturday’s test was a cable-arrested landing, which is the technique that allows high-speed aircraft to land on a short carrier deck with relative safety. During landing, the aircraft deploys a landing hook that snags a heavy cable strung across the flight deck. As the cable plays out, it absorbs the energy of the plane and quickly brings it to a controlled stop. In the X-47B’s case, this system was set up on an airfield rather than an aircraft carrier, but the navigation approach was designed to simulate that of carrier operation.

The landing was the highlight of three three months of shore-based carrier testing , which included precision approaches, touch-and-go landings, and precision landings. Carl Johnson, vice president and Navy (UCAS Carrier Demonstration) UCAS program manager for Northrop Grumman said, “The X-47B air vehicle performs exactly as predicted by the modeling, simulation and surrogate testing we did early in the UCAS-D program. It takes off, flies and lands within a few feet of its predicted path.”

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via Gizmag – David Szondy

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X-47B first flight: the era of the autonomous unmanned combat plane approaches

X-47B first flight: the era of the autonomous unmanned combat plane approaches

No matter how I look at this, it still seems like science fiction – a combat aircraft without a pilot that is capable of flying itself, making its own decisions, recognizing and neutralizing threats, and taking off and landing on an aircraft carrier.

Last Friday (Feb 4), the Northrop Grumman-built U.S. Navy X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) aircraft successfully completed its historic first flight at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The era of the unmanned combat plane is fast approaching.

Conducted by a U.S. Navy/Northrop Grumman test team, the flight took off at 2:09 p.m. PST and lasted 29 minutes. This event marks a critical step in the program, moving the team forward to meet the demonstration objectives of a tailless fighter-sized unmanned aircraft to safely take off from and land on the deck of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.

“First flight represents the compilation of numerous tests to validate the airworthiness of the aircraft, and the robustness and reliability of the software that allows it to operate as an autonomous system and eventually have the ability to take-off and land aboard an aircraft carrier,” said Capt. Jaime Engdahl, the Navy’s UCAS-D program manager.

“Designing a tailless, fighter-sized unmanned aircraft from a clean sheet is no small feat,” said Janis Pamiljans, vice president and UCAS-D program manager for Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems sector. “Commitment, collaboration and uncompromising technical excellence among the Navy, Northrop Grumman and the UCAS-D team industry partners made today’s flight a reality. We are indeed honored to have given wings to the Navy’s vision for exploring unmanned carrier aviation.”

Taking off under hazy skies, the X-47B climbed to an altitude of 5,000 feet, flew several racetrack-type patterns, and landed safely at 2:38 p.m. PST. The flight provided test data to verify and validate system software for guidance and navigation, and the aerodynamic control of the tailless design.

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