The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator put another page in the history books on Wednesday with its first unmanned arrested-wire carrier landing. The drone flew 35 minutes from Patuxent River Naval Air Station to the carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) off the coast of Virginia, where is landed at about 145 knots (167 mph, 268 km/h) with an arresting wire catching its tail hook and bringing it to a stop in 350 ft (107 m).
This test marks the culmination of ten years of research by the Navy and Northrop Grumman to produce a prototype unmanned combat vehicle for the US Navy. Previously, the X-47B completed deck operations aboard the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in December and the first UAV catapult launch in May, after which it practiced shore-based wire capture landings at Patuxent River.
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"We have been using the same [carrier] landing technology for more than 50 years now and the idea that we can take a large UAV and operate in that environment is fascinating," says Capt. Jaime Engdahl, Navy UCAS program manager. "When I think about all of the hours and all of the work-ups the team put into executing this event, I had no doubt the air vehicle was going to do exactly what it was supposed to do."
After the initial landing, the X-47B was launched again from the carrier by catapult and did another arrested landing. The program was originally to include autonomous aerial refueling (AAR) tests in 2014, but recent budget cuts will mean tests later this year will use a manned surrogate aircraft to demonstrate various AAR technologies instead.
The video below shows the X-47B’s first carrier landing.
Source: US Navy
Update (July 12, 2013): This article mistakenly credited Boeing with developing the X-47B. It is Northrup Grumman that is responsible for developing the aircraft for the US Navy. This error has been corrected. Gizmag apologizes for any confusion this may have caused.