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."
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."
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.