A Twist of the Wrist -- How to Drive an X-47B


Standing off to one side at last week's press unveiling of the US Navy's X-47B unmanned combat aircraft system demonstrator at NAS Patuxent River was a guy with what looked like a Borg cybernetic implant on his arm.

All photos: Navair

In fact, it was the wireless hand controller for maneuvering the X-47B on the aircraft-carrier deck.

The battery-powered device uses an RF data link to control nosewheel steering, engine thrust, mainwheel brakes and tailhook, and provides a display, keys and lights to communicate aircraft status to the operator maneuvering the unmanned X-47B on the flight deck.

Initial deck handling trials are planned for this week on the ramp at Pax using air vehicle 2. The operator will stand directly behind the "yellow shirt" flight-deck director, both of them looking at the aircraft, and follow the director's hand signals to maneuver the X-47B.

Using the hand controller, the deck operator will maneuver the X-47B on to the catapult, run up the engine to tension the cat, initiate a control "wipe out" to check the flight-control surfaces are clear and indicate the aircraft is ready to launch, then hand over control to the mission operator below decks.

On landing, once the aircraft has caught the wire, sensed the deceleration and reduced the engine to idle, the deck controller with take command of the X-47B from the mission operator, raise the hook and maneuver the aircraft off the wire and out of the way of the next to land.

AV-2 conducted the 35 min. first flight from Pax on July 29, beginning the East Coast work-up to the first unmanned-aircraft carrier operations in 2013. AV-1 is getting a new software load and will begin carrier-suitability testing with shore-based catapult launches and arrested landings at Pax late this fall.

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