Unmanned X-47B Completes First Carrier-Based Launch

U.S. Navy aviation achieved a historic milestone today.

The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator (UCAS-D) completed its first ever carrier-based catapult launch from USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) off the coast of Virginia, May 14.

An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator flies over the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), May 14. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman by Alan Radecki/Released)

An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator flies over the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), May 14. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman by Alan Radecki/Released)

 

The unmanned aircraft launched from the deck of George H.W. Bush at 11:18 a.m. It executed several planned low approaches to the carrier and safely transited across the Chesapeake Bay to land at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., after a 65-minute flight.

An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator launches from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), May 14. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman by Alan Radecki/Released)

An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator launches from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), May 14. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman by Alan Radecki/Released)

 

Completing another important first for the UCAS-D program, the team demonstrated the ability to precisely navigate the X-47B within the controlled airspace around an aircraft carrier at sea and seamlessly pass control of the air vehicle from a “mission operator” aboard the carrier to one located in the Mission Test Control Center at NAS Patuxent River for landing.

The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator lands at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., after completing the first launch of an unmanned aerial vehicle from an aircraft carrier, May 14. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman/Released)

The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator lands at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., after completing the first launch of an unmanned aerial vehicle from an aircraft carrier, May 14. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman/Released)

Prior to the catapult launch on Tuesday, the UCAS test team also conducted deck-handling and ship-integration testing to demonstrate the capability to safely operate the X-47B in the dynamic, unforgiving environment of an aircraft carrier flight deck.

Over the next few weeks, the X-47B aircraft will fly approaches to the ship multiple times and eventually land on the pitching flight deck.

The UCAS team will conduct additional shore-based testing with the X-47B at NAS Patuxent River in the coming months before its final carrier-based arrested landing demonstration later this summer.

An informational graphic depicting the UCAS X47B. (U.S. Navy graphic by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Arif Patani/Released)

An informational graphic depicting the UCAS X47B. (U.S. Navy graphic by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Arif Patani/Released)

 

Read our blog from Monday that previewed the launch and explained its significance. 

What do you think of today’s launch? How do you think it will impact the future of naval aviation?