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

PATUXENT RIVER NAS, Md., 6 July 2011. The U.S. Navy is taking the next step to deploying unmanned jet fighters on aircraft carriers by demonstrating a ship-based control system July 2 for the Northrop Grumman X-47B prototype unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV). These tests, conducted in the Western Atlantic aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN-69), could pave the way for the first actual X-47B carrier landing within the next two years, Navy leaders say.

Pennwell web 420 217
PATUXENT RIVER NAS, Md., 6 July 2011. The U.S. Navy is taking the next step to deploying unmanned jet fighters on aircraft carriers by demonstrating a ship-based control system July 2 for the Northrop Grumman X-47B prototype unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV). These tests, conducted in the Western Atlantic aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN-69), could pave the way for the first actual X-47B carrier landing within the next two years, Navy leaders say.Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) experts from Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., and the Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems segment in Redondo Beach, Calif., demonstrated a system that will enable the X-47B combat UAV to operate from the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier. Tests involved several launches and recoveries of a manned surrogate aircraft equipped with X-47B navigation software."This manned surrogate test event is a significant and critical step toward landing the X-47B on the carrier deck in 2013," explains Navy Capt. Jaime Engdahl, the Navy's Unmanned Combat Air System (N-UCAS) program manager. Northrop Grumman is in charge of the Navy's Unmanned Combat Air System Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) program. The X-47B first flew in February.

The biggest hurdle to landing a UAV on an aircraft carrier deck involves automating communications and flight procedures between the UAV and the ship, which traditionally have been done manually by aircraft pilots and aircraft carrier operations experts, explains Glenn Colby, the aviation/ship integration lead at Naval Air Systems Command. "We have to ensure that the software controlling these new systems can recognize and respond correctly to every type of contingency," Colby says.

During the tests aboard the aircraft carrier, Navy and Northrop Grumman experts tested X-47B control software that was installed on a Beechcraft King Air 300 twin-engine turboprop aircraft, as well as on a Navy F/A-18 Hornet jet fighter-bomber.

Northrop Grumman won the Navy's UCAS-D contract three years ago. Last March the Navy issued a solicitation for the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program. UCLASS seeks to develop a carrier-based UAV by 2018 that is able to carry out intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, as well as light attack missions.

For more information contact Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems online at www.as.northropgrumman.com, or Naval Air Systems Command at www.navair.navy.mil.

More in Defense Executive