The US Navy is preparing to conduct a series of test activities with the aim of nailing down air standard operating procedures for air traffic control and ground support designed to allow the X-47B unmanned aircraft to operate alongside manned aircraft, both in the air and on the deck of a flight carrier.

Over the coming months, the US Navy plans to conduct various shore-based flight test activities in Patuxent River airspace in an effort to develop procedures for manned and unmanned aircraft sharing the same airspace in both day and nighttime operations.

These shore-based tests will be followed by the X-47B's return to an aircraft carrier in August, this time the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Having become the first unmanned aircraft to takeoff and land on a modern aircraft carrier last year, the team will now look to perfect flight deck operations and integrate the unmanned X-47B with manned aircraft.

"We are working toward a new set of firsts for the X-47B," said Matt Funk, X-47B lead test engineer. "We’ll test the new capabilities of the X-47B wing-fold and tailhook retract system, and will demonstrate compatibility with a carrier jet-blast deflector on the flight deck for the first time."

Funk says verifying these functions will allow the X-47B to take off, land, and hold the same pattern as a manned aircraft, thereby marking a significant step towards unmanned aircraft operating aboard aircraft carriers without disrupting normal flight deck operations.

The goal for the upcoming sea-based trials is to have the X-47B clear the flight deck within 90 seconds after landing and demonstrate that the aircraft can exhibit the same deck handling capabilities of a manned aircraft.