X-47B combat drone launches from aircraft carrier in milestone maritime UAV demonstration

Posted by John Keller

ABOARD THE CARRIER USS BUSH, 15 May 2013. The X-47B unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) launched Tuesday from the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush off the coast of Virginia in an important test to demonstrate the viability of future carrier-based unmanned fighter-bomber aircraft.

Launch of the combat drone occurred at 11:18 a.m. eastern time while the carrier was under way off the coast of Virginia, say officials of the X-47B designer Northrop Grumman Corp. The tailless, strike-fighter-sized aircraft flew autonomously back to Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., where it landed 65 minutes later, company officials say.

The X-47B catapult launch occurred just one day after the USS George H.W. Bush had departed from Naval Air Station Norfolk, Va.

The current at-sea period is the second such test period for the UCAS-D program. In December 2012, the program hoisted an X-47B aircraft aboard the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), then demonstrated that the aircraft could be maneuvered safely and precisely on the ship's flight deck, in its elevators and in its hangar bay.

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In preparation for the launch, the UCAS-D program completed a series of shore-based catapult shots at Patuxent River NAS between November and March. The air vehicle was transported by barge from Patuxent River to Naval Air Station Norfolk in early May, then hoisted aboard the ship.

"Today's catapult launch of the X-47B is a momentous feat for naval aviation," says Capt. Jaime Engdahl, Navy UCAS program manager for Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River NAS. "It proves that the Navy's goal of operating unmanned systems safely and from aircraft carriers is well on its way to becoming a reality."

Northrop Grumman designed, produced and is flight testing two X-47B air vehicles for the program. Air Vehicle 2 completed the catapult shot.

Northrop Grumman's UCAS-D industry team includes Pratt & Whitney, GKN Aerospace, Eaton, GE Aviation, UTC Aerospace Systems, Dell, Honeywell, Moog, Lockheed Martin, Wind River, Parker Aerospace and Rockwell Collins.

For more information contact Northrop Grumman online at

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