Northrop Grumman has delivered two X-47B Unmanned Combat Aircraft Systems (UCAS) to the US Navy, which has begun three weeks of tests aboard the USS Truman – the first aircraft carrier to host test operations for an unmanned aircraft. The X-47B is based on the Pegasus X-47A (originally designed in 2001) but features improved landing gear and folding wings for work aboard carriers.
Currently the Navy is testing how the stealth aircraft taxis aboard the carrier. The X-47B’s flight control system is autonomous, but ground maneuvers are controlled remotely under the watchful eye of an operator using an arm-mounted control display unit (CDU). One official said the fighter could be launched from the ship’s catapult if the conditions were right, but for the time being they need to see how it handles in a crowded space tangled with arresting gear wires, elevators, and catapult connections.
“Nobody has ever done this before,” said Lt. Cmdr. Larry Tarver, Truman’s aircraft handling officer. “Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have flown all over the world, but an X-47B has never operated on an aircraft carrier. Every evolution with this aircraft is taken step-by-step because we don’t fully know how it will react to a carrier environment. It’s a little out of our comfort zone, so our safety precautions are maximized.”
In a Navy press release from the ship, operator Gerrit Everson is quoted as saying, “These tests proved that we can taxi the X-47B with the precision that an aircraft carrier’s flight deck requires.” You can see it for yourself in the following video.