On Friday May 17, the US Navy's X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator took another historic step as it conducted its first touch-and-go landings on the nuclear aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush off the coast of Virginia. This maneuver is a critical achievement in the Navy’s program to develop an autonomous, unmanned, jet-powered combat aircraft capable for operating from a carrier.
A touch-and-go landing (also known as “circuits and bumps”) is where an aircraft touches its wheels to a runway or flight deck, but does not come to a full stop. Instead, it throttles up and takes off again. It’s a common training maneuver and it allows the X-47B to repeatedly demonstrate its ship-relative navigation and ability to make precision touchdowns on the deck of a carrier at sea.
"When we operate in a very dynamic and harsh carrier environment, we need networks and communication links that have high integrity and reliability to ensure mission success and provide precise navigation and placement of an unmanned vehicle," said Captain Jaime Engdahl, program manager for Unmanned Combat Air Systems program office. "Today, we have demonstrated this with the X-47B, and we will continue to demonstrate consistent, reliable, repeatable touchdown locations on a moving carrier flight deck."
The X-47B used was one of two built by Northrop Grumman to demonstrate autonomous carrier operations, including launch, recovery and operations within 50 nautical miles (57.5 miles/92.6 km) of a carrier. One of the two test drones is designed to carry out in-flight refueling tests as well. The intention is that the technology developed for the X-47B will one day lead to autonomous unmanned carrier-based aircraft for surveillance, reconnaissance, and combat duty.
The May 17 operation follows closely on the X-47B’s successful catapult launch from the USS George H.W. Bush on May 14. After completing the current round of carrier tests, the X-47B will return to Naval Air Station Patuxent River to conduct shore-based capture landings before trying its first true carrier landing later this year.
The video below shows the X-47B making a touch-and-go landing.
Source: US Navy