Navy, Northrop Grumman take step toward deploying unmanned jet fighters aboard aircraft carriers

BY John Keller

PATUXENT RIVER NAS, Md.—The U.S. Navy is taking the next step to deploying unmanned jet fighters on aircraft carriers by demonstrating a ship-based control system for the Northrop Grumman X-47B prototype unmanned combat air vehicle.

The tests, conducted in the Western Atlantic aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN-69), could pave the way for the first X-47B carrier landing within the next two years, Navy leaders say. “This event is a significant and critical step toward landing the X-47B on the carrier deck in 2013,” says Navy Capt. Jaime Engdahl, the Navy’s Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) program manager.

The artist’s rendering above depicts an unmanned combat aerial vehicle operating from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.

Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) experts from Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., and Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, Calif., demonstrated a system that will enable the X-47B to operate from the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier. Tests involved launches and recoveries of a manned surrogate aircraft equipped with X-47B navigation software.

The biggest hurdle to landing a UAV on an aircraft carrier involves automating communications and flight procedures between the UAV and the ship, which traditionally has been done manually by aircraft pilots and aircraft carrier operations experts, says Glenn Colby, aviation/ship integration lead at NAVAIR. “We have to ensure the software controlling these new systems can respond correctly to any contingency.”


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February 2014
Volume 25, Issue 2

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