PALMDALE, Calif. The Navy's plan for its future carrier air wing took a leap into autonomous flight on Tuesday with the unveiling here of a stealthy, bat wing-like unmanned jet.
This comes right when other countries are considering aircraft carriers with 20th century manned aviation.
Dubbed Air Vehicle 1, the X-47B aircraft is the first of what will be two demonstration aircraft built by Northrop Grumman Corp. It was designed to test the idea of an autonomous airplane that would launch and recover on Nimitz-class aircraft carriers and conduct strike and other missions without the hands-on controls of an onboard pilot.
Hundreds of workers joined military and company officials in a hangar at Northrop Grumman's Palmdale site Tuesday afternoon for the official unveiling ceremony, where guests got a close-up look at an aircraft the Unmanned Combat Air System-Demonstration, or UCAS-D that only two months ago wasn't yet assembled. The X-47B's bat wing shape takes a page from the Air Force's B-2 stealth bomber, which Northrop Grumman designed and built, then in secret, at this desert location north of Los Angeles.
Program officials plan to conduct sea trial s and the first flight aboard an aircraft carrier in November 2011, an event set to mark the 100th anniversary of naval aviation. The aircraft carrier Truman will likely get the nod as the first to host and operate the aircraft at sea, said Capt. Martin Deppe, the Navy's UCAS program manager.
Officials said the X-47B was designed for autonomous aerial refueling by both naval tankers, which use the probe and drogue system, and Air Force tankers, which refuel with a boom and receptacle.
Northrop Grumman, which last year won the Navy's $635.8 million contract to build the two X-47B aircraft, leads an industry team building the single-engine aircraft, which is designed with landing gear and an arresting hook for carrier catapults and launches and foldable wings for easier stowage. The jet's twin weapons bays will hold a pair of 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or guided bombs, for strike missions, but it also will be outfitted with various systems and sensors that would expand its capabilities to include time-sensitive targeting and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
Navy officials hope to ultimately outfit and deploy the first unmanned combat squadron by 2025, when the unmanned airplanes would operate from carrier flight decks alongside the Joint Strike Fighter jets.
The X-47B, painted in the Navy's traditional haze gray scheme, already bears the aircraft's bureau number of 168063 on a bomber bay hatch.
COURTESY NORTHROP GRUMMAN The X-47B unmanned jet, the first to launch and recover aboard Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, would strike targets and do aerial reconnaissance, surveillance and time-sensitive targeting -- all without a pilot aboard. Officials unveiled the single-jet, cockpit-less aircraft, one of two known as Unmanned Combat Air Systems-Demonstration, or UCAS-D, during a Tuesday ceremony at Northrop Grumman Corp.'s Palmdale , Calif. , site.