The Navy carried out the first launch of the demonstrator X-47B on a stream driven catapult recently, achieving a major step toward flying unmanned aerial vehicles off aircraft carriers and marking what the service called the “start of a new era for naval aviation.”

The shore-based test of the Northrop Grumman [NOC]-built X-47B took place at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., one day after plans were scrubbed due to weather concerns.

“The X-47B shore-based catapult launch we witnessed here today will leave a mark in history,” said Vice Adm. David Dunaway, the commander of Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), said. “We are working toward the future integration of unmanned aircraft on the carrier deck, something we didn’t envision 60 years ago when the steam catapult was first built here.”

NAVAIR said the first ever launch of the X-47B with the stream catapult shows the UAV is sufficiently rigorous for the aircraft carrier environment.

“This test, in addition to the extensive modeling and simulation done prior to today, gives us great confidence in the X-47B’s ability to operate on the flight deck,” said Capt. Jaime Engdahl, the program manager for Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator (UCAS-D).

The Navy is looking toward a potential launch off of an aircraft carrier in the near future. As the ground testing is taking place at Patuxent River, the second X-47B has been loaded on the USS Harry Truman (CVN-75) in Norfolk, Va., for flight deck maneuvering tests.

The UCAS-D program is designed to produce an unmanned, carrier-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft with the ability to carry out precision strike operations, and to mature the technology ahead of the separate follow-on Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program.

The Navy has procured two X-47Bs from Northrop Grumman that arrived at Naval Air Station Patuxent River earlier this year. They resemble a smaller version of the Air Force’s stealthy B-2 bomber built by the same company.

The Navy originally planned to deploy a UCLASS system on an aircraft carrier by 2018, but announced in February that those plans were being pushed back by two years. Rear Adm. Mat Winter, the program executive officer for unmanned aviation and weapons, told reporters in July that the 2020 goal was “ambitious” given the complexities associated with the technology, fully integrating it on an aircraft carrier and training operational personnel.

The Navy in 2011 issued four separate UCLASS research and development contracts to Boeing [BA], General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Northrop Grumman.