Second X-47B Stealth Drone in Pre-Flight Tests


Check out this cool image of Northrop Grumman's second X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator, known as AV-2, undergoing stress tests at a Northrop facility in Palmdale Calif., last week.

The tests are designed to simulate all the bumps and bruises associated with carrier flight ops; a notoriously rough experience for airframes.

From a Northrop announcement:

"The proof tests validate the structural design of the aircraft, and give us confidence that we can operate this plane safely and reliably in all anticipated carrier environments," said Janis Pamiljans, vice president of the Navy UCAS program for Northrop Grumman's Aerospace Systems sector. "In particular, we now know that AV-2 can handle the stresses, strains and dynamic loads associated with catapult launches and arrested landings on the carrier deck, and air-to-air refueling."

The proof testing performed on AV-2 simulated eight design conditions, such as a 3-G symmetrical pull up and a 2.4G rolling pullout; and five conditions expected to occur on the ground, including takeoff and landing, said Sarah Beaudin, Northrop Grumman's AV-2 manager.

One of the ground tests included pulling on the nose gear (to simulate a catapult launch) and the tail hook (to simulate an arrested landing on the carrier deck) at the same time to provide a special combined load case for test with the required margins. One of the flight conditions simulated the forces produced by turbulence that could occur during air-to-air refueling, a more demanding requirement than that used to proof test AV-1 in 2009.

Perhaps most interesting about this second airframe is the fact that it's going to be outfitted with aerial refueling equipment. This feature will be critical to any carrier-launched drones that will operate in the Pacific due to the fact that nation's like China are developing area denial weapons that could keep U.S. ships very far off shore. Meaning any jets launched from carriers may need to stay aloft for a long time in order to get to the fight.

The second X-47B will be sent to Edwards Air Force Base later this spring where it will go through more tests including taxi runs and a first flight. Before that happens, the plane needs to be painted and have its fuel system calibrated, according to Northrop.

The X-47B is designed to prove that the Navy can operate stealthy, combat capable drones from carriers. The jet's very first flight happened just last month.

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