Dynamic tests validate design and structural integrity of X-47B UCAS for carrier operations
Northrop Grumman Corporation recently completed a series of static and dynamic proof load tests to validate the design and structural integrity of the US Navy's first X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) for aircraft carrier launches, recoveries and at-sea operations under the UCAS Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) program.
"Arrested landings, catapult launches, high winds, pitching deck, subsonic speeds, you name it - the operating environment of the carrier air wing is unforgiving," said Scott Winship, vice president and program manager of the Navy UCAS program for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems sector.
"The X-47B was built for these conditions, and as the results of the rigorous proof test show, the design of the aircraft is structurally sound for all aspects of carrier operations."
Conducted over a two-month period with NAVAIR involvement and oversight, the first X-47B underwent a series of progressive structural, functional proof and calibration tests to verify the integrity of all flight control surfaces, major structural load paths, main landing gear structure and tailhook assembly.
According to Northrop Grumman's air vehicle integrated product team lead, Tom Soard, "Past experience in the Navy shows these tests are the only way to verify the design and the tools used to estimate the load paths.
This test proved that our latest finite element models are indeed very accurate. The results match our predictions very well." To conduct the tests, over 200 electro-hydraulic assemblies were attached to the major components of the X-47B. Pressure was applied to simulate aircraft flight conditions.
Each test condition was reviewed and the results approved by the X-47B airframe team before the next series of tests were initiated. Reported results confirm that the X-47B meets the design requirements outlined by the US Navy for a jet-powered, fighter-sized aircraft to demonstrate autonomous launches and recoveries from a carrier.
The X-47B aircraft, now designated with Navy Bureau Number 168063, will undergo engine integration and taxi tests through the fall in preparation for first flight and carrier trials. The second aircraft is currently being assembled and will begin proof load tests later this year.
On schedule and cost, the Northrop Grumman UCAS-D program is committed to maturing critical technologies, reducing unmanned air system carrier integration risks and providing necessary information to the US Navy for a potential follow-on acquisition in support of the Naval Aviation Master Plan. The period of performance for the UCAS-D contract is through 2013.
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