The Navy’s unmanned X-47B designed to operate off aircraft carriers successfully conducted its first landing with arresting gear, the Navy and contractor Northrop Grumman [NOC] said yesterday.

The test took place Saturday at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. using shore-based arresting gear in what was key step for the Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator (UCAS-D) program. The X-47B took its first steam catapult-launched flight late last year. The Navy hopes to fly an X-47B off an aircraft carrier later this year.

X-47B Captured Landing At Pax River.
Photo: Northrop Grumman

This precision, shore-based trap by the X-47B puts the UCAS Carrier Demonstration [UCAS-D] program on final approach for a rendezvous with naval aviation history,” Capt. Jaime Engdahl, the Navy’s UCAS program manager, said in a Northrop Grumman press release. “It moves us a critical step closer to proving that unmanned systems can be integrated seamlessly into Navy carrier operations.”

Carl Johnson, a Northrop Grumman vice president and UCAS-D program manager, said the landing and capture was consistent with simulated testing.

“The X-47B air vehicle performs exactly as predicted by the modeling, simulation and surrogate testing we did early in the UCAS-D program,” Johnson said. “It takes off, flies and lands within a few feet of its predicted path.”

The Navy has procured two X-47Bs, which resemble a smaller version of the stealthy B-2 made by the same company. Engdahl had previously said the Navy had resolved in earlier problem with the X-47B’s tailhook for grabbing the arresting cable.

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 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. 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.