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NAVAIR: X-47B to Fly Again

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X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator completes an arrested landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77). US Navy Photo

X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS-D) demonstrator completes an arrested landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77). US Navy Photo

Naval Air Systems Command plans to keep flying the Northrop Grumman’s X-47B into 2014 as part of the Unmanned Combat Air System demonstration (UCAS-D) program, USNI News has learned.

The two unmanned test airframes — call signs Salty Dog 501 and Salty Dog 502 — were designated to be museum pieces after landing tests aboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) concluded in mid-July.

But since the end of the landing phase of the program, NAVAIR now thinks it could put the two airframes through additional test flights, a Navy official told USNI News on Monday.

News of the additional test flights follows Sunday comments from NAVAIR’s program executive officer for unmanned aviation and strike weapons, Rear Adm. Mat Winter.

“I believe you will see continued operation of the X-47B — at least into the fiscal year 2014 time period,” Winter told Washington, D.C. television station WJLA on Sunday.
“As we go forward we are continuing to assess its operational opportunities.”

NAVAIR would not elaborate on the type of testing the X-47B will undertake.

In July, the Navy said it would conduct aerial refueling tests of the UCAS-D test program with surrogate aircraft with the same software and guidance systems.

NAVAIR told USNI News on Monday the refueling tests are moving ahead with surrogate aircraft not with X-47B.

Salty Dog 501 is currently at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. Salty Dog 502 is currently at the NASA installation on Wallops Island, Va. The X-47B diverted to the installation after an unsuccessful attempt to land onboard Bush in July.

The move from the comes ahead of a planned four-way competition between Northrop, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Atomics for the Navy’s next generation unmanned aerial vehicle — the Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program.

The follow on to the UCAS-D program, the Navy plans to field UCLASS as primarily a surveillance platform operating from U.S. aircraft carriers by 2020.

NAVAIR plans to issue a draft UCLASS request for proposal later this month.

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Sam LaGrone

About Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the USNI Online Editor at the U.S. Naval Institute.
He was formerly the U.S. Maritime Correspondent for the Washington D.C. bureau of Jane’s Defence Weekly and Jane’s Navy International. In his role he covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
Sam is a 2003 graduate of Virginia Military Institute.