The following post was written by Capt. Jaime Engdahl, program manager for UCAS-D (PMA-268), just moments after the UCAS test flight on February 4, 2011.
Today we got a glimpse towards the future as the Navy’s first-ever tailless, jet-powered unmanned aircraft completed its first flight.
A few hours ago the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator took to the beautiful skies above Edwards AFB and returned safely back to base. It is a tremendous victory for the Navy UCAS Team today, first flight of a new Navy X-plane. It is especially significant considering the technologies involved, unmanned autonomous operation and a LO (low observable) relevant, tailless planform.
This 29 minute flight is the first step toward an unmanned combat air vehicle operating from an aircraft carrier. While there are many more shore based and F/A-18 surrogate test flights planned before the first unmanned landing on a carrier in 2013, this initial flight is a milestone event for the UCAS-D program team. The Navy, Northrop Grumman and industry team has worked very hard to get us to where we are today. The many folks at Edwards Air Force Base have also provided unwavering support for this historic event.
As we celebrate the Centennial of Naval Aviation and reflect on how far carrier technology has come in the last 100 years, this ongoing demonstration of suitability in the carrier environment is truly a “next step” for both unmanned technology and Naval Aviation as a whole. The X-47B is the demonstrator that will eventually prove that unmanned aircraft are capable of being catapulted from a carrier deck, operate autonomously in the airspace around the carrier, then fly back to the ship and recover with an arrested landing similar to our manned fighter aircraft today.
Hats off to the team for a job extremely well done!