Northrop Grumman’s X-47B unmanned combat aircraft system demonstrator (UCAS-D) is about to begin ground maneuver trials at NAS Patuxtent River, Md., to evaluate deck handling procedures as it moves toward a landing on an aircraft carrier in 2013.

The X-47B made its first flight from Pax on July 29, when air vehicle (AV) 2 completed a 36-min. flight over Chesapeake Bay, reaching 7,500 ft. altitude and 180 kt. airspeed.

The two X-47Bs were trucked to Pax after completing envelope-expansion flight testing at Edwards AFB, Calif.

“In the months since AV-1 arrived at Pax, we have completed Block 1 envelope expansion, electromagnetic compatibility testing, and autonomous carrier air traffic control testing on the USS Truman using a King Air surrogate,” says Capt. Jaime Engdahl, UCAS program manager.

Last to arrive, AV-2 was used for the first flight from Pax because the tests, to demonstrate airspace integration and command-and-control functionality, could be performed with the software used to complete the airworthiness testing at Edwards.

AV-1 is being readied for carrier suitability testing with the next block of software, which is focused on allowing the aircraft to integrate with ship operations. Shore-based catapult launches and arrested landings will begin at Pax in late fall.

Within days, ground maneuver tests with AV-2 will begin on the ramp at Pax, using a wireless controller that straps to the UCAS-D deck operator’s right arm and controls thrust, nosewheel steering, brakes and tailhook.

On deck, the operator will stand directly behind the “yellow-shirt” director, facing the X-47B, and follow his signals to maneuver the unmanned aircraft onto the catapult, run up the engine, check the control surfaces and hand over control to the mission operator.

Upon landing, after the X-47B catches the wire and reduces engine power to idle, the deck operator will take over control, raise the tailhook and maneuver the aircraft off the wire.