Unmanned aircraft have been grabbing the headlines today. First, there is now a clearer picture available of what appears to be China’s first stealth UAV–but little more than that is really known, everything else is pure speculation. However, one industry source says that to his very experienced eyes, the aircraft is a genuine advance in Chinese aerospace development–unlike the farce that is the Iranian toy that was presented last week.
Meanwhile, the US Navy launched a Northrop Grumman X-47B from the USS George H W Bush earlier today–our very own Zach Rosenberg was there. The Navy got Flightglobal a slot on the helicopter even though they initially told us there was no room. The launch looks like it was quite successful–take a look below.
However, the X-47B did not carry out an arrested landing upon returning to Pax River. That could be because the unmanned jet was having difficulty making even that first trap it did the week before where the Navy showed off a video of the aircraft snagging a wire. Sources told the DEW Line, at the time of the earlier trap, the aircraft now had a 10 percent field boarding rate… So hopefully, this isn’t an indication of a major problem. The X-47B guys have had to redesign their tail hook a number of times now due to the same inaccurate Navy-supplied wire dynamics model that was partly responsible for the F-35C’s woes.
Meanwhile, back in scenic Crystal City, Lockheed showed off this picture of their Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft mockup. Lockheed hopes to displace Northrop’s entrant–likely X-47B derived–for the Navy’s UCLASS effort. The UCLASS program will actually take four separate designs to a preliminary design review before downselecting to one. The UCLASS, which is an operational successor to the X-47B demonstrator, will likely be smaller than the Northrop-built prototypes and will likely only have a light strike capability. Speaking of Lockheed–the company showed us a video of the F-35B performing a vertical take-off from last Friday, but paradoxically because of the Navy and Joint Program Office, are not allowed to release it–which sucks for you guys. Frankly, it’s just bizarre–it’s a big base with lots of people and when a large 40,000lbs fighter takes-off vertically and hovers, folks are going to take notice.