The Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned combat air system demonstrator (UCAS-D) made its first land-based catapult launch on 29 November at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland.
"This test, in addition to the extensive modeling and simulation done prior to today, gives us great confidence in the X-47B's ability to operate on the flight deck," says Capt Jaime Engdahl, the US Navy's UCAS programme manager.
This first steam catapult launch of the X-47B was designed to demonstrate the aircraft's ability to structurally withstand the rigours of the aircraft carrier deck environment, the USN says.
The USN and Northrop will continue to do ground-based catapult verification checks and final flight software tests before embarking onboard the carrier USS Harry S Truman later this month for the jet's initial sea trials.
"We are breaking new ground with the development of a carrier-based system that enables launch and recovery support of an unmanned platform off a carrier flight deck," Engdahl says.
Using the X-47B, the USN hopes to demonstrate the first carrier-based launches and recoveries by an autonomous, unmanned aircraft in 2013.