Military Embedded Systems

Northrop Grumman X-47B UCAS completes carrier-based testing


December 20, 2012

Brandon Lewis

Technology Editor

Embedded Computing Design

NAPLES, Italy. The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) experimental naval drone has completed its first tests aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. After a two-week series of tests aboard the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman, the X-47B proved engineering and mechanical compatibility with nuclear-powered aircraft-bearing vessels. The drone and similar Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) could eventually transport cargo to ships deployed at sea, carry out surveillance and reconnaissance runs, and conduct aerial assault missions. It is expected to conduct land-and-launch exercises in early 2013, which would be the first UAV flight from a carrier.

The X-47B was towed across Truman’s flight deck by remote-controlled, carrier-based tractors to test the UAV’s digital engine controls reaction with electromagnetic fields, as well as its taxiing capabilities aboard a seafaring vessel. Navy unmanned aircraft program manager Don Blottenberger commented, “We’ve learned a lot about the environment that we’re in and how compatible the aircraft is with a carrier’s flight deck, hangar bays and communication systems.”

Rather than verbal instructions, digital messages from shipboard controllers direct the Northrop Grumman aircraft’s movements from left to right, over the arresting wire, and to and from spotting positions and catapults. Land-based catapult launch tests were originally conducted on the 62-foot wingspan plane (slightly smaller than aircraft currently used aboard carriers) in November of 2011 from Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. Further catapult launch, arrested landing, and aerial fueling tests will be conducted there as well.

“The system has performed outstandingly,” said Blottenberger. “There is a lot ahead for our program and a lot of hard work behind us. I look at Truman as the beginning of future unmanned integration with the fleet. I’m a believer that this is only the beginning.”


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