The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator completed its first flight Friday, an essential step in the Navy's ground-breaking effort to design, develop and integrate an autonomous unmanned air system on an aircraft carrier.
The U.S. Naval Air Systems Command said the Navy and Northrop Grumman team operated the aircraft -- designed for surveillance and precision strike missions -- from a ground control station at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
The flight was conducted at 5,000 feet with landing gear down. The vehicle flew a racetrack pattern over the dry lakebed with standard-rate turns. The flight provided test data to verify and validate system software for guidance and navigation and the aerodynamic control of the tailless design.
"First flight represents the compilation of numerous tests to validate the airworthiness of the aircraft and the robustness and reliability of the software that allows it to operate as an autonomous system and eventually have the ability to takeoff and land aboard an aircraft carrier," said Capt. Jaime Engdahl, the Navy's UCAS-D program manager.
Janis Pamiljans, vice president of Northrop's Aerospace Systems sector and UCAS-D program manager, said designing the aircraft was a difficult proposition.
"Commitment, collaboration and uncompromising technical excellence among the Navy, Northrop Grumman and the UCAS-D team industry partners made today's flight a reality," she said. "We are indeed honored to have given wings to the Navy's vision for exploring unmanned carrier aviation."
The X-47B's maiden flight marks the start of a yearlong, 50-flight envelope expansion test program at Edwards. The first of two aircraft will complete initial testing late this year and the second aircraft will begin testing shortly thereafter.
After completion of initial airworthiness testing in California, the aircraft will be taken to Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md. for the remainder of the carrier demonstration program.