Navy's X-47B UCAV in Debut Flight at Pax


Northrop Grumman's X-47B unmanned combat aircraft system demonstrator has made its first flight on the East Coast, from the US Navy's test center at NAS Patuxent River in Maryland.

Photo: Northrop Grumman

Air vehicle 1 made a 36-minute flight on July 29, completing two racetrack patterns over Chesapeake Bay and reaching 7,500 ft. altitude and 180 kt airspeed. The tailless flying wing was operated by a team that included a Navy mission operator, and communicated with a shore-based version of the system that will guide the X-47B to a landing on an aircraft carrier in 2013.

While the U.S.'s UCAV program moves ahead, the Europeans are trying not to fall even further behind. EADS Cassidian has completed another series of test of its Barracuda technology demonstrator at Goose Bay in Canada, with five flights in June and July. These involved the Barracuda operating with a Learjet simulating another UAV, the two aircraft flying missions with different profiles but autonomously coordinated and synchronized.

Barracuda. Photo: Cassidian

Cassidian says the flights collected data on the autonomous distribution of roles between UAVs in complex scenarios. Role distribution was predefined, and coordination between the two UAVs was largely automated. But the missions could be adapted by uploading new data while the aircraft were in the operating area, "not only individual new waypoints, but also entire mission segments," the company says.

The UK's Taranis UCAV demonstrator, meanwhile, has completed radar cross-section tests at BAE Systems Warton, meeting and "potentially exceeding" the targets set by industry and the UK MoD, the company says. Stealth is a big part of the flying wing's design, and propulsion-system testing completed at Rolls-Royce included measuring infra-red signature. As a result of these tests, BAE says, "the MoD requested an extension of testing," pushing the first flight back to 2013. The French-led Dassault Neuron UCAV demonstrator is still expected to fly this year.

Taranis. Photo: BAE Systems

All laudable progress, but I am pretty sure any unmanned combat aircraft is going to slip a decade or so in the current economic environment. so I will keep my excitement in check.

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