The U.S. Navy will attempt the first launch of an unmanned aircraft from an aircraft carrier on Tuesday, using Northrop Grumman
's X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator (UCAS).
(X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) loaded onto flight deck of USS George H.W. Bush. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tony D.)
The X-47B is about the size of a fighter jet and has a range of more than 2,100 nautical miles, with the ability to fly fully autonomous. Tuesday's launch will occur aboard the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) aircraft carrier in Norfolk, Va.
The Navy is looking to use the UCAS to demonstrate the integration of unmanned aircraft into carrier-based operations.
"Over the coming years, we will heavily leverage the technology maturation, networking advances and precision navigation algorithms developed from the X-47B demonstration program to pursue the introduction of the first operational carrier-based unmanned aircraft," Rear Adm. Mat Winter, the Navy's program executive officer for unmanned aviation, wrote in a Monday blog post. "This future system will provide a 24/7, carrier-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and targeting capability, which will operate together with manned aviation assets allowing the opportunity to shape a more efficient carrier air wing,"
The Navy is planning to demonstrate the aerial refueling capability of the X-47B during the 2014 fiscal year.
Related: Unmanned Systems News