NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, Md., 16 May 2013. Northrop Grumman Corp. (NYSE:NOC) and the U.S. Navy made carrier-capable unmanned aircraft history by catapulting the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator from the deck of the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77).
The launch occurred at 11:18 a.m. Eastern while the carrier was under way off the coast of Virginia. The tailless, strike-fighter-sized aircraft flew autonomously, returning to Naval Air Station Patuxent River and landing safely 65 minutes later.
said Capt. Jaime Engdahl, Navy UCAS program manager for the Naval Air Systems Command, called the catapult launch of the X-47B “a momentous feat for naval aviation. It proves that the Navy's goal of operating unmanned systems safely and effectively from aircraft carriers is well on its way to becoming a reality."
Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor for the Navy's UCAS Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) program. Company engineers designed, produced, and is currently flight testing two X-47B air vehicles for the program. Air Vehicle 2 completed the catapult shot.
Northrop Grumman's UCAS-D industry team includes Pratt & Whitney, GKN Aerospace, Eaton, GE Aviation, UTC Aerospace Systems, Dell, Honeywell, Moog, Lockheed Martin, Wind River, Parker Aerospace, and Rockwell Collins.
"Catapulting the unmanned X-47B off the USS George H.W. Bush is an event as historic as the Navy's first catapult of a manned aircraft, which occurred in Nov. 1915 from the armored cruiser USS North Carolina (ACR-12)," explains Carl Johnson, vice president and Navy UCAS program manager for Northrop Grumman. "We are delighted to help launch this new era of naval capability."
The current at-sea period is the second test period for the UCAS-D program. In December 2012, the program hoisted an X-47B aircraft aboard the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), then demonstrated that the aircraft could be maneuvered safely and precisely on the ship's flight deck, in its elevators and in its hangar bay.
In preparation for the launch, the UCAS-D program completed a series of shore-based catapult shots at Naval Air Station Patuxent River between November and March. The air vehicle was transported by barge from Patuxent River to Naval Air Station Norfolk in early May, and then was hoisted aboard the ship.