The Navy conducted its first ever aerial refueling of its X-47B carrier based drone demonstrator aircraft Wednesday at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md.
The X-47B, built by Northrop Grumman, was refueled by an Omega Air Refueling Tanker, Navy and Northrop Grumman officials confirmed.
The carrier based drone made history when it flew from a carrier in May and November of 2013 and is now working on streamlining carrier deck operations and maneuvers with manned aircraft.
The Navy launched and landed the X-47B 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 in August of last year off the coast of Norfolk, Va., service 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.
The refueling of the X-47B happens as the Pentagon’s ongoing review of the Navy’s next-generation carrier-launched unmanned drone works to make sure the new platform is well-suited to operate in a joint combat environment – and prominent members of Congress continue to push for a stealthy, long-endurance, penetrating strike capability.
An ongoing Pentagon intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, review is currently exploring the range of desired attributes for the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Aircraft Surveillance and Strike system, or UCLASS.
The X-47B carrier-launched drone is a demonstrator platform designed to inform the development of UCLASS.
-- Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@military.com