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Monday, February 7, 2011

Unmanned UCAS-D Makes First Flight

The U.S. Naval Air Systems Command and Northrop Grumman announced the first flight Feb. 4 of the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) aircraft, three and a half years after contract award.

The 29-minute flight at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., was described as an historic and critical step toward demonstrating operation of an unmanned, autonomous, tail-less aircraft on an aircraft carrier, planned for 2013. The flight provided test data that will contribute to verification and validation of the X-47B guidance and navigation software, and the aerodynamic control of its tail-less design.

The program leadership briefed reporters on the flight in a Feb. 5 teleconference.

“The team is still analyzing the data, but I will tell you the performance was rock solid,” said Capt. Jaime Engdahl, UCAS-D program manager with NAVAIR PMA-268, Unmanned Combat Air Systems. “When they did fly the aircraft, it did exactly what was expected. The flight path was as planned and preliminary feedback from the engineers was that it matched the model, aerodynamics performance and guidance control very well.”

The program this spring will test X-47B software with a carrier at sea, using an F-18 surrogate aircraft. The X-47B will remain at Edwards AFB for flight envelope expansion before transitioning to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., later this year for carrier suitability testing, followed by carrier trials in 2013. 

Northrop Grumman was awarded the UCAS-D prime contract from the Navy in August 2007. The six-year contract includes development of two X-47B fighter-sized aircraft. Janis Pamiljans, Northrop Grumman UCAS-D program manager, said the second air vehicle “is finished with no test anomalies,” with a first flight planned this summer per the schedule.

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