UAS & Robotics

Navy lands first unmanned combat aircraft on carrier

Wednesday marked a milestone in naval aviation with the successful landing of the X-47B.

For the first time, a tailless, unmanned autonomous aircraft landed on a modern aircraft carrier. Following an announcement of the launch on July 9, the X-47B successfully completed its first carrier-based arrested landing at sea on July 10. The X-47B is an unmanned combat air system that will be used as a model for future development.

 “It isn’t very often you get a glimpse of the future,” added Ray Mabus, secretary of the Navy. “The operational unmanned aircraft soon to be developed have the opportunity to radically change the way presence and combat power are delivered from our aircraft carriers.”   

The X-47B landed on the USS George H.W. Bush off the coast of Virginia after a 35-minute transit from the Patuxent River by catching the 3 wire with the aircraft’s tailhook. This arrested landing maneuver effectively brought the aircraft from 145 knots to stop in less than 350 feet. Following the first successful landing, the X-47B completed one more arrested landing after being launched using the carrier’s catapult.

This is one of many tests the X-47B has completed over the last eight months, however this final demonstration shows the Navy is ready to move forward with unmanned carrier aviation, said Rear Adm. Mat Winter, who oversees the program executive office for unmanned aviation and strike weapons in Patuxent River, Md. The X-47B successfully completed CVN deck operations in December 2012 and in May 2013.

"We have learned a lot from our flight-deck operations, our shore-based flight test and extensive modeling and simulation," said Capt. Jaime Engdahl, Navy UCAS program manager. "Our team has executed all major program objectives and developed the concept of operations and demonstrated technologies for a future unmanned carrier-based aircraft capability. [Today] we have proven we can seamlessly integrate unmanned systems into the carrier environment."

Mabus said the X-47B’s autonomous arrested landing shows how the Navy and Marine Corps are riding the bow wave of technological advancements to create a 21st century force. 

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