Northrop Grumman X-47B
|The X-47B's first takeoff at Edwards AFB, California, in February 2011|
|Role||Unmanned combat air vehicle|
|First flight||4 February 2011|
|Primary user||United States Navy|
|Program cost||US$813 million|
|Developed from||X-47A Pegasus|
|Developed into||X-47C UCLASS|
The Northrop Grumman X-47B is a demonstration unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) designed for carrier-based operations. Developed by the American defense technology company Northrop Grumman, the X-47 project began as part of DARPA's J-UCAS program, and is now part of the United States Navy's Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) program. The X-47B first flew in 2011, and as of 2013[update], it is undergoing flight testing, having successfully performed a series of land- and carrier-based demonstrations. Northrop Grumman intends to develop the prototype X-47B into a battlefield-ready aircraft, the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) system, which will enter service by 2019.
Design and development
The US Navy did not commit to practical UCAS efforts until 2000, when the service awarded contracts of US$2 million each to Boeing and Northrop Grumman for a 15-month concept-exploration program. Design considerations for a naval UCAV included dealing with the corrosive saltwater environment, deck handling for launch and recovery, integration with command and control systems, and operation in an aircraft carrier's high-electromagnetic-interference environment. The Navy was also interested in procuring UCAVs for reconnaissance missions, penetrating protected airspace to identify targets for following attack waves.
The J-UCAS program was terminated in February 2006 following the US military's Quadrennial Defense Review. The US Air Force and Navy proceeded with their own UAV programs. The Navy selected Northrop Grumman's X-47B as its unmanned combat air system demonstrator (UCAS-D) program. A new weapon system will not be developed for the X-47B, but it will be able to carry existing weapons, and has a full-sized weapons bay. To provide realistic testing, the demonstration vehicle is the same size and weight as the projected operational craft.
The X-47B prototype rolled out from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, on 16 December 2008. Its first flight was planned for November 2009, but the flight was delayed as the project fell behind schedule. On 29 December 2009, Northrop Grumman oversaw towed taxi tests of the aircraft at the Palmdale facility, with the aircraft taxiing under its own power for the first time in January 2010.
The first flight of the X-47B demonstrator, designated Air Vehicle 1 (AV-1), took place at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on 4 February 2011. The aircraft first flew in cruise configuration with its landing gear retracted on 30 September 2011. A second X-47B demonstrator, designated AV-2, conducted its maiden flight at Edwards Air Force Base on 22 November 2011.
The two X-47B demonstrators were planned to have a three-year test program with 50 tests at Edwards AFB and NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, culminating in sea trials in 2013. However, the aircraft performed so consistently that the preliminary tests stopped after 16 flights. The aircraft will be used to demonstrate carrier launches and recoveries, as well as autonomous inflight refueling with a probe and drogue. The X-47B has a maximum unrefueled range of over 2,100 nautical miles (3,900 km), and an endurance of more than six hours. In November 2011, the Navy announced that aerial refuelling equipment and software would be added to one of the prototype aircraft in 2014 for testing. The demonstrator aircraft will never be armed.
In 2012, Northrop Grumman tested a wearable remote control system, designed to allow ground crews to steer the X-47B while on the carrier deck. In May 2012, AV-1 began high-intensity electromagnetic interference testing at Patuxent River, to test its compatibility with planned electronic warfare systems. In June 2012, AV-2 arrived at Patuxent River to begin a series of tests, including arrested landings and catapult launches, to validate the ability of the aircraft to conduct precision approaches to an aircraft carrier. The drone's first land-based catapult launch was conducted successfully on 29 November 2012.
On 26 November 2012, the X-47B began its carrier-based evaluation aboard the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. On 18 December 2012, the X-47B completed its first at-sea test phase. The system was remarked to have performed "outstandingly", having proved that it was compatible with the flight deck, hangar bays, and communication systems of an aircraft carrier. With deck testing completed, the X-47B demonstrator returned to NAS Patuxent River for further tests. On 4 May 2013, the demonstrator successfully performed an arrested landing on a simulated carrier deck at Patuxent River. The Navy launched the X-47B from the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) on the morning of 14 May 2013 in the Atlantic Ocean, marking the first time that an unmanned drone was catapulted off an aircraft carrier. On 17 May 2013, another first was achieved when the X-47B performed touch-and-go landings and take-offs on the flight deck of the USS George H.W. Bush while underway in the Atlantic Ocean.
On 10 July 2013, the X-47B launched from Patuxent River and landed on the deck of the George H.W. Bush, conducting the first ever arrested landing of a UAV on an aircraft carrier at sea. The drone subsequently completed a second successful arrested landing on the Bush, but a third attempt was diverted to the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia after a technical problem was detected, aborting the planned carrier landing. One of the drone's three navigational sub-systems failed, which was identified by the other two sub-systems. The anomaly was indicated to the mission operator, who followed test plan procedures to abort the landing. The Navy stated that the aircraft's detection of a problem demonstrated its reliability and ability to operate autonomously. On 15 July 2013, with a different X-47B demonstrator, designated 501, another planned landing on the Bush was aborted due to technical issues. Officials asserted that only one successful at-sea landing was required for the program, though testers were aiming for three, and only two out of four were achieved. The Navy will continue flying the two X-47B demonstrators through 2014 due to criticism saying the service prematurely retired the testbeds. They plan to deploy the aircraft to carriers three more times over two years. The first deployment is to occur in late 2013, and the second in 2014. The last is to be from late 2014 to early 2015 and demonstrate that unmanned aircraft can seamlessly work with the 70-plane carrier air wing.
The Navy is using software from the X-47B to demonstrate unmanned refueling capabilities. On 28 August 2013, a contractor-flown Learjet 25 refueled from a Boeing 707 tanker. A pilot was on board the Learjet, but it flew autonomously as a surrogate aircraft uploaded with the X-47B's technology. Surrogates are often used as stand-ins for unmanned aircraft. The test was to demonstrate that unmanned and optionally-manned aircraft can have an automated aerial refueling capability, significantly increasing their range, persistence, and flexibility. However, previously on 15 April 2013, it was announced by Capt. Jaime Engdahl, Navy UCAS program manager, that plans to demonstrate autonomous aerial refueling were cuts in the U.S. Navy’s fiscal 2014 budget.
On 18 September 2013, the X-47B flew the 100th flight for the UCAS-D program. Objectives of the program were completed in July, which included a total of 16 precision approaches to the carrier flight deck, including five planned tests of X-47B wave-off functions, nine touch-and-go landings, two arrested landings, and three catapult launches.
On 10 November 2013, flight testing for the X-47B continued on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71). During this phase, the X-47B's digitized carrier-controlled environment was tested which involved the interface between the unmanned aircraft and carrier personnel during launching, recovering, and flight operations. Such a digital environment offered increased flexibility and enhanced safety for carrier operations.
Sea trials in summer 2014 are to make the X-47B able to clear the deck within 90 seconds or less, ideally 60 seconds, like a manned aircraft. The purpose is to allow its takeoff, landing, and ability to hold in a pattern able to be sandwiched between traditional, manned platforms without disruption to operations. Testing will be conducted on the USS Theodore Roosevelt with equipment to make it clear the deck quickly like an automated wing-folding capability instead manually commanded wing folding and an automatic tailhook retractor. The X-47B will also operate with a jet-blast deflector on deck for the first time, needed to conduct takeoffs without disrupting operating taking place behind it.
On 10 April 2014, the X-47B performed its first night flight. Night flights are part developing operations for routine UAV activity, and the Navy will continue to develop procedures for it to act co-operatively with manned aircraft.
The project was initially funded under a US$635.8-million contract awarded by the Navy in 2007. However, by January 2012, the X-47B's total program cost had grown to an estimated $813 million. Government funding for the X-47B UCAS-D program was to run out at the end of September 2013, with the close of the fiscal year.
In March 2014, the X-47B won a 57th Annual Laureate Award for “extraordinary achievements” in aeronautics and propulsion hosted by Aviation Week. 
Original proof-of-concept prototype with a 27.8-foot (8.5 m) wingspan, first flown in 2003.
Current demonstrator aircraft with a 62-foot (19 m) wingspan, first flown in 2011.
Proposed larger version with a payload of 10,000 lb (4,500 kg) and a wingspan of 172 ft (52.4 m).
- Crew: None aboard (semi-autonomous operation)
- Length: 38.2 ft (11.63 m)
- Wingspan: 62.1 ft extended/30.9 ft folded (18.92 m/9.41 m)
- Height: 10.4 ft (3.10 m)
- Empty weight: 14,000 lb (6,350 kg)
- Max. takeoff weight: 44,567 lb (20,215 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney F100-220U turbofan
- Maximum speed: Subsonic
- Cruise speed: Mach 0.9+ (high subsonic)
- Range: 2,100+ NM (3,889+ km)
- Service ceiling: 40,000 ft (12,190 m)
- 2 weapon bays, providing for up to 4,500 lb (2,000 kg) of ordnance
- Provisions for EO/IR/SAR/ISAR/GMTI/MMTI/ESM
- Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- AVIC Sharp Sword
- BAE Taranis
- Boeing Bird of Prey
- Boeing Phantom Ray
- Boeing X-45
- Dassault nEUROn
- EADS Barracuda
- General Atomics Avenger
- Lockheed Martin Polecat
- McDonnell Douglas X-36
- MiG Skat
- Northrop Grumman RQ-180
- Related lists
- "New drone has no pilot anywhere, so who's accountable?" Los Angeles Times. 26 January 2012. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
- "U.S. Launches Drone From Aircraft Carrier". ABC. 15 May 2013. Retrieved 15 May 2013.
- "X-47B – Carrier Suitability Testing". LiveLeak.com. 21 June 2013. Retrieved 21 June 2013.
- "US drone lands on aircraft carrier". BBC. 11 July 2013. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
- "Exclusive Pics: The Navy’s Unmanned, Autonomous ‘UFO’". Wired. 31 July 2012. Retrieved 7 July 2013.
- "DARPA And Navy Select Naval UCAV Contractors". US Department of Defense. 20 June 2000. Retrieved 30 November 2012.
- Aviation Week & Space Technology. "Tailless Tailhooker: Autonomous U.S. Navy X-plane flight marks sea change toward unmanned carrier aviation". 14 February 2011. p. 28.
- Ackerman, Spencer (13 February 2013). "Navy: No New Weapons System on Our Future Carrier-Based Drone". Wired. Retrieved 13 February 2013.
- "US Navy's robot stealth carrier plane unveiled". The Register. 18 December 2008. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
- "Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems X-47B UCAS overview". Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems. Retrieved 17 June 2013.
- "Photo Release -- Northrop Grumman Reveals First Navy Unmanned Combat Aircraft". Northrop Grumman. 16 December 2008. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
- Morring, Frank (11 January 2010). "Taxi Tests for UCAS-D". Aviation Week (McGraw-Hill): 15.
- "Northrop UCAS-D Completes First Flight". Aviation Week. 4 February 2011. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
- "Edwards flight engineers perform first X-47B flight". US Air Force. 7 February 2011. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
- Roach, John (11 October 2011). "UFO-like drone hits cruise mode". MSNBC. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
- "Navy's Second Stealthy X-47B Drone Flies". DefenseTech.org. 28 November 2011. Retrieved 5 December 2011.
- "X-47B UCAS". Northrop Grumman. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
- Dillow, Clay. "I Am Warplane" Popular Science. 5 July 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
- "X-47 UCAS-D" (PDF). Northrop Grumman. 5 April 2011. Archived from the original on 2012. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
- "Navy to outfit an X-47B prototype with refueling gear". Defense Systems. 7 November 2011. Retrieved 9 November 2011.
- "The next step in directing drones: hand signals". Navy Times. 1 April 2012. Retrieved 17 April 2012.
- "Electronic Blast Slated for Unmanned Attack Aircraft". Aviation Week. 3 May 2012. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
- ""Beltway UFO" has DC Talking". NBC Washington. 14 June 2012. Retrieved 14 June 2012.
- "Navy Preps Killer Drone for First Carrier Launch". Wired. 30 November 2012. Retrieved 1 December 2012.
- "X-47B Drone Meets the Fleet". Aviation History. March 2013 issue. p. 10.
- Taylor DiMartino (26 November 2012). "Truman Hosts X-47B Unmanned Aircraft Demonstrator For Carrier-Based Testing". NNS121126-07. USS Harry S. Truman Public Affairs. Retrieved 7 December 2012.
- "X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Completes First At-Sea Tests". Defense-Aerospace.com. 18 December 2012. Retrieved 20 December 2012.
- "Video: The Navy's stealth drone makes its first arrested landing". Foreign Policy. 6 May 2013. Retrieved 6 May 2013.
- "Navy launches unmanned aircraft from deck of aircraft carrier for 1st time". Washington Post. Associated Press. 14 May 2013. Retrieved 15 May 2013.
- "US launches drone from aircraft carrier for first time" (video). BBC News Online. 15 May 2013. Retrieved 15 May 2013.
- Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Brandon Vinson, USN (17 May 2013). "X-47B Accomplishes First Ever Carrier Touch and Go aboard CVN 77". NNS130517-15. USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) Public Affairs. Retrieved 17 May 2013. "The Navy's X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator (UCAS-D) has begun touch and go landing operations aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) May 17."
- "Glitch forces Navy drone to abort carrier landing". The Virginian-Pilot. 12 July 2012. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
- "Navy: Glitch in X-47B Test Only Proves Unmanned Aircraft’s Reliability". National Defense. 11 July 2013.
- Christopher P. Cavas (16 July 2013). "X-47B Fails Fourth Landing Attempt". Navy Times. Gannett Company. Retrieved 16 July 2013. "The aircraft developed technical issues while in flight from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., to the ship and officials decided to abort the attempt before the X-47B reached the vicinity of the carrier, steaming off the U.S. east coast."
- "X-47B fails landing attempt - again". Military Times. 16 July 2013. Retrieved 17 July 2013.
- US Navy hopes to fly X-47B demonstrators into 2014 - Flightglobal.com, 6 August 2013
- X-47B Gets Two More Years of Tests to Prep Navy for Robot Warplanes - Spectrum.ieee.org, 8 August 2013
- US Navy begins unmanned refuelling trials - Flightglobal.com, 12 September 2013
- X-47B Unmanned Aerial Refueling Demo Victim Of Cuts Aviation Week, 15 April 2013
- X-47B conducts centennial flight - Thebaynet.com, 20 September 2013
- "X-47B Operates Aboard Theodore Roosevelt". NNS131110-02. USS Theodore Roosevelt Public Affairs. 10 November 2013. Retrieved 14 November 2013. "The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator (UCAS-D) conducted flight operations aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), Nov. 10."
- New X-47B Ship Goal: Clear Deck In 90 Sec. - Aviationweek.com, 7 April 2014
- X-47B conducts night flight, named Collier Trophy winner - Flightglobal.com, 15 April 2014
- "X-47B Program Honored with Laureate Award" Seapower Magazine March 7, 2014
- Sweetman, Bill. "Ultra Stealth". Aviation Week. 26 May 2008. Retrieved 17 June 2013.
- "The Future of Drone Warfare Is Scary". The Atlantic Wire. 6 February 2013. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
- "Northrop Grumman UCAS-D Datasheet". Northrop Grumman. 6 February 2013. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
- "Northrop Grumman UCAS-D Datasheet". Northrop Grumman. 6 February 2013. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Northrop Grumman X-47B.|
|Video of X-47B land catapult launch|
|Video of X-47B carrier catapult launch|
- X-47B UCAS page and media gallery on NorthropGrumman.com
- "X-47B – First Navy Stealth UAV Ready". The Future of Things. 20 January 2009.
- "Could we trust killer robots?". Wall Street Journal. 19 May 2012.
- "I Am Warplane: How the first autonomous strike plane will land on aircraft carriers, navigate hostile airspace and change the future of flight". Popular Science. 5 July 2012.
- "X-47B stealth drone targets new frontiers". BBC Future. 19 December 2012.