The US Navy’s unmanned X-47B has successfully completed a series of tests, operating safely and seamlessly with manned F/A-18s, aboard the navy’s fourth Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71).
Based on previous experiences from its first test period aboard Theodore Roosevelt last November, the X-47B team has been focusing on perfecting deck operations and manoeuvres with manned aircraft in the flight pattern.
US Navy Unmanned Carrier Aviation office programme manager captain Beau Duarte said: "Today we showed that the X-47B could take off, land and fly in the carrier pattern with manned aircraft, while maintaining normal flight deck operations.
"This is key for the future Carrier Air Wing."
During the initial series of manned / unmanned operations, involving a cooperative launch and recovery sequence, the vessel launched an F/A-18 and an X-47B, followed by the X-47B’s arrested landing.
The deck-based operator then manually operated the aircraft through the latest deck handling control and moved it out of the way of other aircraft, enabling the F/A-18 to land close to the X-47B’s recovery.
X-47B flight test director lieutenant commander Brian Hall said: "For this test period, we really focused on integration with manned aircraft.
"We re-engineered the tailhook retract actuator and updated operating software to expedite wingfold during taxi, both of which reduce time in the landing area post-recovery.
"Our goal was to minimise the time in the landing area and improve the flow with manned aircraft in the landing pattern."
During the tests, the X-47B executed multiple arrested landings, catapults, flight deck taxiing and deck refuelling tasks.
The X-47B is expected to be onboard CVN 71 for the duration of the underway period, to carry out additional cooperative deck and flight operations with F/A-18s and complete night deck handling and flying quality assessments.
Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons supervisor rear admiral Mat Winter said: "The X-47B’s air vehicle performance, testing efficiency and safety technologies and procedures developed and tested throughout the programme’s execution have paved the way for the navy’s future carrier-based unmanned system capability."
The US Navy will continue to operate X-47B flights during 2015 to demonstrate the integration of unmanned carrier-based aircraft within the carrier surroundings, as well as mature technologies, for the potential unmanned carrier launched airborne surveillance and strike system.
Image: The Navy’s unmanned X-47B and manned F/A-18 Hornet aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt during flight operations. Photo: courtesy of mass communications specialist Seaman Apprentice Alex Millar.