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UCAS-D Marks 'Sea Change' in Naval Strike, ISR Capabilities

Northrop Grumman to Build an Unmanned Combat Aircraft for the US Navy


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X-47 Remains on Schedule for Sea Trials despite First Flight Delay

The first flight of the U.S. Navy’s X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator has been postponed by several months and will take place at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. in the second quarter of next year (2010). Originally, it was scheduled for late 2009. Naval Air Systems Command UCAS-D program office (PMA-268) and the aircraft designer Northrop Grumman continue pre-flight testing of the aircraft to ensure the system’s readiness to fly early next year.

Photos: above - roll out of the first X-47B UCAS-D. Right: Artist impression of the aircraft performing carrier operations. Photos: Northrop Grumman

According to Capt. Martin Deppe, program manager in Patuxent River, Md., the thorough pre-flight tests are required to build confidence in this 'new class of aircraft'. "The Navy is breaking new ground here, and given both the resulting technical complexity and strategic importance of this program, we're taking a closer look before first flight to sort out any integration issues. We intend to do it right." The X-47B will be the first unmanned jet aircraft to take off and land aboard an aircraft carrier. It also will be the first all-new aircraft of any kind to operate on the flight deck in more than 30 years.

Deppe said. The current tests include the X-47B ground-based check-outs, surrogate aircraft flight testing, and lab-based integration testing. Low-speed taxi testing is expected to commence in December 2009. Despite this delay, Deppe is confident the program will remain on-schedule for sea trials in 2012. The unmanned aircraft will demonstrate that a long-range, low-observable, flying-wing unmanned combat aircraft can operate safely from aircraft carriers and refuel in-flight to achieve ultra-long mission endurance.