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Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aircraft Performs First Touch and Go

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An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator conducts a touch and go landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77). US Navy Photo

An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator conducts a touch and go landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77). US Navy Photo

Less than a week after its historic launch off the deck of the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77), the Navy’s X-47B demonstration aircraft performed a so-called “touch and go,” landing off the carrier on Friday, Navy officials told USNI News.

The 44,567 pound X-47B hit Bush’s deck and then powered off the end of the carrier. The operation at sea is one step closer for the ultimate goal of the Unmanned Combat Air System Aircraft Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) — landing on a moving carrier.

“Today, we have demonstrated this with the X-47B, and we will continue to demonstrate, consistent, reliable, repeatable touch-down locations on a moving carrier flight deck,” Capt. Jaime Engdahl, program manager for Unmanned Combat Air Systems program office, said in a statement “This precision relative navigation technology is key to ensuring future unmanned systems can operate off our aircraft carriers.”

The landing could come as soon as July or August, Don Blottenberger UCAS-D deputy program manager told USNI News on May, 14 underway on Bush. This month, the X-47B successfully landed at a Navy test facility at Patuxent River, Md. on a runway that simulates a carrier landing.

The X-47B is the first fixed-wing-autonomous carrier vehicle in the Navy’s history and serves as a technology demonstrator to show the software and hardware on the aircraft can successfully land the airplane.

The UCAS-D program uses a new Northrop Grumman developed Precision Global Positioning System (PGPS) scheme to allow the X-47B to know where the aircraft is relative to the ship. The PGPS system is a significant upgrade to the current radar based Automatic Carrier Landing System.

The X-47B is the first step in a new breed of carrier aircraft. By 2020 the Navy wants to field the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike System (UCLASS). UCLASS plans to provide longer loiter times for surveillance missions and the ability to launch weapons.