X-47B Completes First Pax River Flight


Naval aviation officials chose 11 a.m. on Sunday morning to make history as the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator made its first flight at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.

The tailess, unmanned aircraft designed to land on aircraft carriers made a 35 minute flight taking off from Pax River and flying over the Chesapeake Bay reaching an altitude of 7,500 feet and an air speed of 180 knots. Navy officials considered Sunday's first test flight a success.

The service's first unmanned strike aircraft arrived from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in June to continue its testing regimen. Pax River has a  simulated aircraft carrier environment to test the incredible feat of landing an unmanned aircraft on a carrier at sea. Navy leaders hope to make the first X-47B landing on a carrier in 2013.

"The X-47B’s flight today is another important step closer to the Navy’s vision of operating tailless, autonomous, unmanned systems from aircraft carriers," Capt. Jaime Engdahl, Navy UCAS program manager, said in a statement.

Navy officials made the X-47B's first test flight at Edwards in February 2011 (see a video here). The unmanned aircraft demonstrator has completed a host of tests leading up to its flight to Pax River to include reaching an altitude of 15,000 feet. Sunday marked the X-47Bs first test flight since arriving at Pax River.

A team made up of officials and engineers from the Navy and Northrop Grumman, builder of the X-47, will continue to work to master the art of landing on a carrier. Test flights started at Edwards where the X-47 extended the tail hook. Tests at Pax River will include procedures following "bolter runs" which occur when the tail hook does not catch and an aircraft must immediately take off again.

“This milestone event is the first of many flights at Pax River to demonstrate X-47B’s compatibility with aircraft carrier flight procedures and launch/recovery equipment,” Matt Funk, UCAS lead test engineer said in a Navy statement. “The unique airspace and ship equipment at Pax River allow us to conduct the testing here before we land aboard the aircraft carrier next year.”

We expect to learn more Tuesday when the Navy has invited reporters down to Pax River to find out what the service has planned for the X-47B demonstrator.

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