X-47B UAV successfully launched by catapult
The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator being developed by Northrop Grumman for the US Navy has been successfully launched from a catapult for the first time. The test was carried out on 29 November at a shore-based catapult facility at Naval Air Station Patuxent River.
This test marks the first of several shore-based catapult-to-flight tests that will be performed before the navy's UCAS Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) programme catapult launches the X-47B from a ship.
Northrop Grumman, prime contractor for the UCAS-D programme, and the US Navy carried out a test flight following the launch over Chesapeake Bay near Patuxent River. According to the company, the flight included several manoeuvres designed to simulate tasks that the aircraft will have to perform when it lands on a ship, including flying in a typical ship holding pattern, and executing a carrier approach flight profile. The flight also allowed the test team to gather precision navigation data associated with each of those manoeuvres.
The tests also provided the team with a further opportunity to demonstrate the precision operation of the Northrop Grumman-developed Control Display Unit [CDU], one of the key elements of future flight deck operations for the X-47B. The CDU is a wireless, arm-mounted controller that will allow a flight deck operator to control and manoeuvre the X-47B on the flight deck, including moving it into the catapult, disengaging it from the carrier's arresting wires and moving it quickly out of the landing area.
Mike Mackey, Northrop Grumman's UCAS-D program director, said: ‘Today's successful launch is another critical milestone in the carrier-suitability testing phase of the UCAS-D programme. It also provides another confidence-building step toward our rendezvous with history next year.’
Over the next few weeks, the UCAS-D programme expects to conduct several shore-based catapults at Patuxent River. The aircraft is also undergoing deck handling trials in December, ahead of the 2013 plans to demonstrate the ability of an X-47B to operate from a US Navy aircraft carrier, including launch, recovery and air traffic control operations.
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