The US Navy’s X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration aircraft has for the first time flown in its cruise configuration, retracting its landing gear at Edwards Air Force Base.

The flight test validated the aircraft’s precision navigation hardware and software that enable it to land on the moving deck of an aircraft carrier.

Northrop Aerospace Systems sector vice-president and Navy UCAS programme manager Janis Pamiljans said: "Reaching this critical test point demonstrates the growing maturity of the air system, and its readiness to move to the next phase of flight testing."

The first of two X-47B aircraft produced by Northrop Grumman for the Navy’s Unmanned Combat Air System Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) programme are currently undergoing envelope expansion flight testing.

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The envelope expansion flights are conducted to demonstrate aircraft performance under various altitude, speed and fuel load conditions.

The aircraft will undergo shore-based carrier suitability testing in 2012 and the first aircraft carrier launches and recoveries will be conducted in 2013.