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Northrop Grumman details future of UCAS-D

Northrop Grumman has detailed flight test plans for the X-47B, the experimental aircraft intended to demonstrate unmanned carrier approaches.

US Navy Capt Jaime Engdahl, speaking at the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space Exposition on 11 April, revealed that the first carrier landing is expected in 2013, and that the necessary planned modifications have already been installed on the aircraft carrier the USS Eisenhower.

The first X-47B aircraft is currently grounded for modifications to its navigation system in preparation for a second round of test flights. AV1, which first flew in February at Edwards AFB, California, is scheduled to be in the air again by the summer.

During ‘late fall’ the aircraft will be brought to the navy’s flight test centre at Patuxent River, Maryland, where it will begin carrier suitability testing in early 2012. The aircraft is scheduled to make its first carrier landing in early- to mid-2013 as part of the USN's unmanned combat air system demonstration (UCAS-D) programme.

Equipment will be installed in a Boeing F/A-18 and a Beechcraft King Air to simulate the X-47. In the aircraft itself, human intervention will be limited to “a click of the mouse [that] says go, a click of the mouse [that] says come home,” says Northrop programme director Janis Palminjans.

“We have a multi-blocked flight test programme established, developed back in 2007,” he says. “We haven’t deviated from it; we’ve added one more block, called Block 6, for the air-to-air refuelling.”

© Northrop Grumman

AV1 has conducted three flights to test its handling and aerodynamics. AV2 is slated to begin taxi tests in the fall of this year. Once finished demonstrating compatibility with the aircraft carrier, both aircraft will be re-modified for Block 6, including precision software already tested on manned aircraft. They will be tested using both hose-and-drogue and boom refuelling capability.

Although the aircraft are equipped with weapons bays, they are currently used to carry test instrumentation pods, with no plans in place to carry weaponry.

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