Touchdown! The X-47B scores a landing aboard USS GEORGE H W BUSH. (U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Kevin J. Steinberg)
The Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned jet aircraft is small but impressive, and on July 10 it accomplished something no purposely-designed unmanned jet had ever done – it successfully landed on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier at sea.
Proof-of-concept jet aircraft, such as F/A-18 Hornets fitted with remote control gear, have performed the feat previously, but the X-47B is a whole ‘nother leap forward. Built under the Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) program, the two demonstrator aircraft have proven the feasibility of operating unmanned jets in the complex carrier environment.
Taken to sea last winter on board USS HARRY S TRUMAN (CVN 75), the X-47B initially was used to test out handling issues aboard the carrier. This May, the aircraft was loaded on board USS GEORGE H W BUSH (CVN 77) for the first flying tests, and on May 14 the plane performed its first catapult launch. Touch’n’go tests followed, with the aircraft performing a landing approach but not actually “trapping” an arresting wire. The recovery operations of July 10 were perhaps the most sophisticated examples of the program’s technological prowess, the culmination of a seven-year, $1.5 billion effort.
The test program now is nearly at an end, as the Navy transitions to development of a new Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program to develop operational aircraft.
Here are a number of scenes from the X-47B’s landing operations on July 10.
Flanked by two F/A-18F Super Hornets from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23), the X-47B approaches USS GEORGE H W BUSH (CVN 77) for a flyover prior to making its first landing attempt. (Photo by Chris Cavas)
X-47B 502 making a planned pass over the carrier prior to performing its first carrier recovery landing. (Photo by Chris Cavas)
Here it comes..... (Photo by Chris Cavas)
Almost there... (U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Kevin J. Steinberg)
Touchdown! The three "Vulture's Row" levels along the Bush's island superstructure are crowded with spectators and visitors. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brian Stephens)
The aircraft rolls out after hitting the deck. (U.S. Navy photo by CAPT Jane E. Campbell)
There are two X-47B demonstrators, 501 and 502. The latter was used both for the first catapult launch in May, and the first deck landings on July 10. (Photo by Chris Cavas)
After landing, the X-47B was spotted on a forward catapult and launched for another go. (U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Christopher A. Liaghat)
Underscoring the importance of the event, the Navy's top two leaders, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, and Chief of Naval Operations ADM. Jonathan Greenert, both came out to watch the landings. (U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Tony D. Curtis)
Mabus and Greenert congratulated a number of members of the X-47 team. Here, the CNO chats with Don Blottenberger, UCAS-D Deputy Program manager, shortly after the second landing. (Photo by Chris Cavas)
The X-47B is spotted on the Bush's forward flight deck July 10 as the ship steams in the Atlantic off the Delmarva peninsula. (Photo by Chris Cavas)
The X-47B was given a "hot refueling" on the flight deck after its second landing. A planned third landing was waved off when the aircraft's onboard systems detected an anomaly with one of its three navigation computers. (Photo by Chris Cavas)
If it's on, over, under or around the water, I write about it. Ships and aircraft, units, tactics, leadership, strategies, acquisition, politics, industry. In the USA and around the world.
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