Navy perfects UAV deck operations

By Emily Aasand | September 09, 2014

The U.S. Navy’s unmanned X-47B completed its final test aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) recently after spending eight days at sea, testing the safe operating of manned and unmanned aircraft.

The team first began testing the X-47B in November 2013 and recently spent a week at sea focusing on perfecting deck operations and performing maneuvers with manned aircraft in the flight pattern.

Testing began on August 17 when the X-47B performed its initial cooperative launch and recovery cycle with an F/A-18. According to the team that conducted the mission, “with its automatic wing-fold capability and new tailhook retract system, the X-47B met the program’s objective to demonstrate that carrier-based and unmanned aircraft could maintain a 90 second aircraft launch and recovery interval.”

“For this test period, we really focused on integration with manned aircraft,” said Lt. Cmdr Brian Hall, X-47B flight test director. “We re-engineered the tailhook retract actuator and updated operating software to expedite wingfold during taxi, both of which reduce time in the landing area post-recovery. Our goal was to minimize the time in the landing area and improve the flow with manned aircraft in the landing pattern.”

While in flight with other manned aircraft, the X-47B conducted a total of five catapult launches, four arrestments and nine touch-and-go landings, including a night time shipboard flight deck handling evaluation.

Throughout the course of the week, according to the team, the Navy and Northrop Grumman test team captured X-47B flying quality and recovery wind condition data to evaluate how the aircraft responds to wake turbulence during approach and landing.

The team also observed how the UAS performed during the first night time taxi and deck handling operations aboard a carrier.

“We conducted X-47B night flight deck operations to understand the human interface and suitability of the unmanned air vehicle and deck operator’s hand-held control unit in the night environment,” said Barbara Weathers, X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System lead. “These lessons learned will help with the development of future unmanned platforms.”