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Northrop Grumman X-47B flies at Navy base, anticipating 2014 shipboard trials

The Northrop Grumman X-47B has made its first flight from NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, the US Navy's main flight test centre.

The 35min flight occurred on 29 July using Air Vehicle Two (AV2).

Both air vehicles were trucked to the air base from Edwards AFB, California, where they have completed check-out flights.

The Navy declined to specify when further flights are due to occur at Patuxent River, citing the uncertainties of test flight.

"Sunday was an auspicious day for the programme," says Captain Jaime Engdahl, the programme manager. "It was really about a decade ago some folks got together and said, 'how do we get an unmanned aircraft aboard an aircraft carrier?'"

The Navy intends to use the aircraft to demonstrate autonomous air-to-air refueling and an aircraft carrier landing using the aircraft, operations which require very precise and predictable flight characteristics. Tests using crewed aircraft have made substantial progress in verifying the software to be used.

 Northrop Grumman

 ©Northrop Grumman

Other components and scenarios are also being tested, including taxiing on the flight deck, which will be controlled remotely by an operator using a hand-held joystick.

"We shipped the aircraft to NAS Patuxent River for a very specific reason: because there are only two places in the world the Navy does catapult work," said Engdahl.

The other site is located at Naval Air Station Lakehurst, New Jersey, but the squadron assigned to test experimental strike aircraft -- VX-23 -- is based at Patuxent River.

The programme is seen as a technology demonstrator for the unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike (UCLASS) programme, in which a request for proposal is expected before the end of the year.

At least four large companies have announced they will enter the UCLASS competition: Boeing with an undisclosed system, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems with the Avenger, Lockheed Martin with the Sea Ghost, and Northrop Grumman with what is likely to be a modified X-47.

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