Stealthy Navy Drone to Achieve First Flight, Finally

Just a few days after Boeing showed off the taxi tests of its unmanned strike prototype, the Navy reveals it's gearing up for the premier flight of its first ever, stealthy, carrier-launched drone.

While the Northrop Grumman-made X-47B was supposed to fly last year, numerous delays have kept the plane grounded. That's finally about to change according to Defense News' ace naval reporter Chris Cavas.

The first unmanned aircraft designed as a carrier-based strike jet is almost ready to take to the air for the first time, U.S. Navy officials have confirmed.

Northrop Grumman's X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) drone has been performing taxi tests for several weeks at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., as engineers run the aircraft through a long series of pre-flight tests and checks.

Program officials had hoped for a flight by mid-December, but weather and other factors have delayed the event. Officials were reluctant to specify an exact date, but are hopeful the flight will take place before the end of the year.

Here's the most interesting part of Cavas' article:
Although numerous technical and command-and-control issues need to be addressed to bring the concept to maturity, war planners have routinely been using X-47s in war games as part of a carrier strike group. In some cases, they have even swapped out the manned air wing for an all-UCAS wing, with, reportedly, great success.
The success of the X-47B will no doubt pave the way for the sea service's planned Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike drone. That aircraft, which will piggyback off the X-47B program, will be a fully operational combat plane capable of doing everything from air-to-ground strikes and ISR missions to air-to-air refueling.

The speed of the development and fielding of these planes will also likely play a factor in Pentagon planning for conflicts in the Pacific theater where China is developing advanced air defense networks and missiles aimed at keeping U.S. carriers far from the Chinese coast.

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