U.S. Navy, Northrop Grumman Successfully Test Systems Required to Operate X-47B Unmanned System From an Aircraft Carrier



Manned Surrogate Using X-47B Software Makes Trial Landings on USS Eisenhower

The U.S. Navy and Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) have successfully completed a demonstration of the ship-based software and systems that will allow the X-47B unmanned air vehicle to operate from the deck of an aircraft carrier.

The test, conducted July 2 in the western Atlantic with the Navy carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN-69), culminated with several successful launches and recoveries of a manned surrogate aircraft equipped with X-47B precision navigation control software.

“This manned surrogate test event is a significant and critical step toward landing the X-47B on the carrier deck in 2013,” said Capt. Jaime Engdahl, U.S. Navy, program manager, Navy Unmanned Combat Air System (N-UCAS). “It represents the first end-to-end test of the hardware and software systems that will eventually allow unmanned systems to integrate safely and successfully with all aspects of carrier operations.”


First, they used early versions of the software that the X-47B will use to operate at the carrier to simulate command and control, air traffic control and navigation exchanges between the aircraft and the carrier. Then they progressed to more robust simulations that included X-47B avionics and an X-47B mission operator station, all in the NASIF lab.

Next were flight tests of X-47B hardware and software installed on a King Air Beech 300 aircraft. The King Air flew in the vicinity of CVN-69 – both pier-side in Norfolk, Va., and while underway – to test mission management, command and control, communications, air traffic control and navigation functions between the X-47B software and the ship.

In addition to the King Air, the test team used a surrogate F/A-18 aircraft equipped with X-47B software and avionics to evaluate the most challenging areas of launch and recovery operations. Initial testing at Patuxent River focused on verifying that aircraft sensors, navigation, guidance and control systems were ready for shipboard testing.


  1. IMO, this is a no brainer. Robots should do a better job landing on a predictably pitching ship than humans.

    Next step: Unmanned aircraft carriers.

  2. Truly automated carrier landings will take all the glory out of being a carrier pilot. If the flying toasters can do it, they’ll have to remind the aircrews of manned aircraft flying toaster capability to put the magazine down, raise the table and put the seat in the upright and locked position before arrestment.

  3. I have to wonder if we’ll ever have any operational capability with this, as well as other “Gee Whiz” stuff, when the true finality of our broken national finances makes itself felt (no one wants to lend to us anymore and printing the **** pushes inflation up past 20% annually).

  4. Someone just needs to crack the codes, then hack in with a playstation controller, for some real fun.

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