The US Navy (USN) has loaded a Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned combat air system demonstrator (UCAS-D) onto the carrier USS Harry S Truman in anticipation of shipboard trials, the service announced on 26 November.
While onboard the ship, a Naval Aviation Systems Command (NAVAIR) team hopes to demonstrate seamless integration with the carrier's flight deck operations. The aircraft will be controlled by a hand-held control display unit (CDU) for the tests.
"We've been testing the aircraft for the last several years and to finally put it on a ship is so exciting," Commander Kevin Watkins, the X-47B's flight test director. "If these tests are successful, they will prove that the future for unmanned aircraft is wide open."
Because this is the first time any fixed-wing unmanned aircraft has been tested onboard a carrier, technical challenges are not unexpected. But Captain Jaime Engdahl, NAVAIR's unmanned combat air system programme manager, says he expects the tests to be successful.
"To operate large, unmanned aircraft off of a carrier, from anywhere in the world, will be a key capability for the Navy after these tests are successful," Engdahl says.
The USN says the X-47B tests will be conducted over a three week period which will include both in-port and underway demonstrations aboard the Truman. The aircraft is expected to demonstrate carrier launches and recoveries next year.