Trials Focused On Operations Aboard A Carrier, Flight Testing To Come
The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator completed its first at-sea test phase aboard the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) December 18. The first aircraft of its kind aboard a Naval vessel, the X-47B was put through myriad trials designed to assess the viability of an unmanned system's operation aboard a carrier.
Among the multitude of tests, the X-47B was towed using carrier-based tractors, taxied on the flight deck via its arm-mounted control display unit (CDU), and had its digital engine controls tested within environments pervaded by electromagnetic fields. "The system has performed outstandingly," said Don Blottenberger, program manager for the N-UCAS Program Office (PMA-268). "We've learned a lot about the environment that we're in and how compatible the aircraft is with a carrier's flight deck, hangar bays and communication systems."
"We validated our capabilities on an aircraft carrier," said Mike Mackey, Northrop Grumman's program director. "We gained a lot of knowledge that we could never have gotten anywhere else except on a carrier. It was perfect for the team. We demonstrated the program's maturity and our team's ability to interact with Sailors and the ship, which was one of the most important things for us to do."
Mackey said data collected from the aircraft's performance throughout its two-week test period aboard Truman will contribute to future unmanned aviation programs. Although the X-47B, as a demonstration aircraft, will never be put into production, Blottenberger said Sailors may one day see similar aircraft aboard ships. "There are a lot of people aboard Truman that will take this experience with them," said Blottenberger. "I think that all of this interest will help different programs both manned and unmanned. Hopefully, its impact will benefit future technologies."
Sailors aboard Truman were offered working experience with the X-47B as crew members directed the aircraft on the flight deck and handled it in the hangar bays.
With X-47B's deck testing completed, Blottenberger said the aircraft will return to Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River for further testing and is scheduled to embark another carrier in mid-2013.
"I'm a believer that this is only the beginning," said Blottenberger. "We're taking UCAS-D into next year with what we learned aboard Truman. We are planning to get it back on a carrier to complete catapult launches, arrested landings and aerial refueling tests. There is a lot ahead for our program and a lot of hard work behind us. I look at Truman as the beginning of future unmanned integration with the fleet."
ANN Salutes Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Taylor DiMartino, USS Harry S. Truman Public Affairs