The second and final Northrop Grumman X-47B has successfully taken flight at Edwards AFB in California. The next-generation unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) will be the first autonomous, fixed-wing aircraft to land on an aircraft carrier.
The flight, which lasted roughly 30min, occurred on 22 November. The aircraft climbed to 5,000ft (1,524m) and flew several racetrack patterns before landing. Northrop declined to elaborate on the flight. One aircraft will move to the navy's testing grounds at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, while the other will continue envelope expansion tests at Edwards. Eventually, both aircraft will make autonomous landings on an aircraft carrier.
"With two aircraft now available, we can increase the amount of aircraft performance data we gather, which will allow us to meet our required aircraft capability demonstration goals in a timely manner," said Carl Johnson, Northrop vice president and UCAV programme manager.
© Northrop Grumman
The first X-47B flew from Edwards on 4 February. The first aircraft carrier landing is planned for 2013, with autonomous aerial refuelling tests to follow. The X-47B is one potential contender for the larger unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike (UCLASS) programme, in which it will likely compete against the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Avenger and an offshoot of the Boeing Phantom Ray.