The Navy launched and landed a carrier-based drone in rapid succession with an F/A-18 fighter jet as part of a series of joint manned and unmanned flight tests aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt Aug. 17 off the coast of Norfolk, Va., service officials said.
The Navy’s carrier-based drone demonstrator, the X-47B, flew from a carrier in May and November of last year and is now working on streamlining carrier deck operations and maneuvers with manned aircraft.
"Today we showed that the X-47B could take off, land and fly in the carrier pattern with manned aircraft while maintaining normal flight deck operations," Capt. Beau Duarte, program manager for the Navy's Unmanned Carrier Aviation office, said in a written statement. "This is key for the future Carrier Air Wing."
After an eight minute flight, the X-47B executed an arrested landing, folded its wings and taxied out of the landing area before moving out of the way for an F/A-18 to land, Navy officials said.
Overall, the Navy’s demonstrator X-47B aircraft is designed to inform the development of the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike system, or UCLASS.
Last summer, the Navy awarded four contracts valued at $15 million for preliminary design review for the UCLASSto Boeing, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. A formal Request For Proposal is slated to be released in coming weeks, Navy officials said.
Navy engineers worked on some slight modifications to the X-47B aircraft in order to allow it to both land and integrate in rapid succession with fixed-wing fighter jets.
"We re-engineered the tailhook retract actuator and updated operating software to expedite wingfold during taxi, both of which reduce time in the landing area post-recovery. Our goal was to minimize the time in the landing area and improve the flow with manned aircraft in the landing pattern," said Lt. Cmdr Brian Hall, X-47B flight test director.
Navy officials described the tailhook retract actuator as the device that allows for the X-47B to lift up its tailhook after landing. Also, the USS Roosevelt made use of a newly developed deck handling control to manually move aircraft out of the way, Navy officials said. As a result of these technical developments, the F/A-18 was able to touch down close behind the X-47B.
Testing and flight operations on the USS Roosevelt will continue in coming weeks as the Navy plans to perform night-deck handling missions as well, a Navy statement said.
"The X-47B's air vehicle performance, testing efficiency and safety technologies and procedures developed and tested throughout the program's execution have paved the way for the Navy's future carrier-based unmanned system capability," Rear Adm. Mat Winter, who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, said in a written statement.