The first flight of the Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned combat air system demonstrator (UCAS-D) ship one is planned for the fourth quarter of 2009, with an identical second example to fly a year later.
The first ship's subsystems are being installed, and the start of construction for the second is awaiting fiscal year 2009 funding, with funds expected to be released on 1 October.
The first X-47B is planned to be tested with a yet-to-be-named US Navy aircraft carrier in late 2011, following flight testing at the service's Paxtuent River facility in Maryland. The demonstrator will initially operate outside the carrier's 400m (1,310ft) limit for landing approaches, but once confidence has been built, will be brought in to land. Once the demonstrator is on the deck the expected guidance technology will be manually operated remote control. The selected carrier will have some communications equipment installed in mid-2009 under a separate contract.
"The three critical enabllng technologies we have to develop [for the long-term deployment] are the automatic refuelling, mission management and the low observable [material]," Northrop's UCAS-D programme manager Scott Winship said during the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International North America 2008 convention in San Diego, California. The low observable materials will have to be resistant to the salt water environment.
Winship expects a number of X-47B variants to be tested between the first carrier test in 2011 and the planned roadmap deployment of a UCAS-D-type capability in 2025, "like the YF-22 programme".