Drone X-47B fighter lands on Navy carrier, handles glitch well

The algorithm guided autonomous X-47B successfully lands on the USS George H.W. Bush twice and self detected a computer anomaly that took it to shore without incident.

The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) completed two arrested landings on board the USS George H.W. Bush on Wednesday and self-detected "a navigation computer anomaly" and diverted to a shore landing site.

According to the U.S. Navy, the carrier landing of the X-47B ushers in an era of unmanned aircraft that can conduct naval aviation missions. The test, conducted off the coast of Virginia, revolved around a 35 minute flight from the Pax River to the carrier and caught the 3 wire with the aircraft's tail hook. The X-47B came to stop in less than 350 feet.

After the first landing, the algorithm-guided X-47B was catapulted off the carrier again. On the third flight, the Navy said the drone "self detected a navigation computer anomaly that required the air vehicle to transit to the assigned shore based divert landing site, Wallops Island Air Field. The X-47B navigated to and landed without incident."

Credit: U.S. Navy


Northrop Grumman was named the prime contractor for the UCAS program in August 2007. Since then, the X-47B has hit numerous milestones. In 2014, the X-47B is expected to demonstrate autonomous aerial refueling. The UCAS program is designed to cut the risk to human life.

As for the technology, the X-47B "is a computer-controlled unmanned aircraft system that takes off, flies a preprogrammed mission, then returns to base in response to mouse clicks from its mission operator. The mission operator monitors the X-47B air vehicle’s operation, but does not actively 'fly' it via remote control as is the case for other unmanned systems currently in operation."

Credit: Northrop Grumman


However, Navy personnel does monitor the system and the X-47B's automated routines.

The Northrop Grumman team consists of Pratt & Whitney, Lockheed Martin, GKN Aerospace, Eaton, General Electric, UTC Aerospace Systems, Dell, Honeywell, Moog, Wind River, Parker Aerospace and Rockwell Collins.

Wednesday's landing kicked off the final part of three at-sea test periods for the X-47B over the last eight months.