PICTURE: Northrop Grumman unveils first X-47B

Washington DC
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Northrop Grumman yesterday "unveiled" the first of two X-47Bs being produced for the US Navy's unmanned combat air system-demonstration (UCAS-D) programme.

The ceremonial event marked the completion of aircraft assembly about 15 months after the Northrop won the UCAS-D contract

A formal roll-out ceremony will be held in the third or fourth quarter of 2009, which is shortly before the first flight event.

 
© Northrop Grumman

The X-47B remains the US military's principle vanguard for a potential new age of stealthy, autonomous combat aircraft. The UCAS-D programme aims to prove the viability of operating such vehicles from aircraft carrier decks.

"Unveiling the first X-47B UCAS aircraft signals a sea change in military aviation, made possible through the navy's vision and leadership," said Scott Winship, Northrop VP and navy UCAS programme manager.

The UCAS-D appears to have survived a budget crisis in June, and the USN has recently expanded the programme to include an autonomous aerial refueling demonstration.