Northrop Grumman X-47B

The Northrop Grumman X-47B during its first takeoff at Edwards Air Force Base, California, in February 2011.
Role Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle
Manufacturer Northrop Grumman
First flight 4 February 2011
Primary user United States Navy
Developed from X-47A Pegasus

The Northrop Grumman X-47B is an American demonstration Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) which first flew in 2011. The X-47 project began as part of DARPA's J-UCAS program, and is now part of the United States Navy's UCAS-D (Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration) program, which aims to create a carrier-based unmanned aircraft. Unlike the similar Boeing X-45, the development of the original X-47A Pegasus was company-funded. The X-47A's follow-on naval version is designated X-47B.


Design and development

The US Navy did not commit to practical UCAV efforts until mid-2000, when the service awarded contracts of US$2 million each to Boeing and Northrop Grumman for a 15-month concept-exploration program.[1] Design considerations for a naval UCAV included dealing with the corrosive saltwater environment, deck handling for launch and recovery, integration with command and control systems, and operation in an aircraft carrier's high-electromagnetic-interference environment. The Navy was also interested in procuring UCAVs for reconnaissance missions, penetrating protected airspace to identify targets for following attack waves.[2]

The J-UCAS program was terminated in February 2006 following the US military's Quadrennial Defense Review. The US Air Force and US Navy proceeded with their own UAV programs. The Navy selected Northrop Grumman's X-47B as its unmanned combat air system demonstrator (UCAS-D) program.[3] The X-47B carries no weapons, but has a full-sized weapons bay. In order to provide realistic testing, the demonstration vehicle is the same size and weight as the projected operational craft.[4][5][6]

The X-47B prototype rolled out from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, on December 16, 2008. Its first flight was planned for November 2009, but the flight was delayed as the project fell behind schedule. On December 29, 2009, Northrop Grumman oversaw towed taxi tests of the aircraft at the Palmdale facility,[7] with the aircraft taxiing under its own power for the first time in January 2010.

The first flight of the X-47B demonstrator, designated Air Vehicle 1 (AV-1), took place at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on February 4, 2011.[8][9] The aircraft first flew in cruise configuration with its landing gear retracted on September 30, 2011.[10]

The X-47B is planned to have a three-year test program at Edwards AFB and NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, culminating in sea trials in 2013.[11] The aircraft will be used to demonstrate carrier launches and recoveries, as well as autonomous inflight refueling with a probe and drogue. The X-47B has a maximum unrefueled range of over 2,000 miles (3,200 km), and an endurance of more than six hours.[12] In November 2011, the Navy announced that aerial refuelling equipment and software would be added to one of the prototype aircraft in 2014.[13]


A mockup of the Northrop Grumman X-47B.
Original proof-of-concept prototype with a 19-foot (5.9-m) wingspan, first flown in 2003.
Proposed larger version with a payload of 10,000 lb (4,500 kg) and a wingspan of 172 ft (52.4 m).[14]

Specifications (X-47B)

General characteristics


2 weapon bays, providing for up to 4,500 lb (2,000 kg) of ordnance[15]

Provisions for EO/IR/SAR/ISAR/GMTI/MMTI/ESM[15]

See also

Related development
  • X-47A Pegasus
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

Related lists


  1. ^ "DARPA And Navy Select Naval UCAV Contractors". US DoD, 20 June 2000.
  2. ^ Aviation Week & Space Technology, "Tailless Tailhooker: Autonomous U.S. Navy X-plane flight marks sea change toward unmanned carrier aviation", 14 February 2011, p. 28.
  3. ^ X-47 Pegasus Naval Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV-N), USA. Retrieved: 11 June 2009.
  4. ^ "US Navy's robot stealth carrier plane unveiled". The Register, 18 December 2008
  5. ^ "Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems X-47B UCAS overview", Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems
  6. ^ "Photo Release -- Northrop Grumman Reveals First Navy Unmanned Combat Aircraft". Northrop Grumman news release, Dec. 16, 2008.
  7. ^ Morring, Frank (January 11, 2010). "Taxi Tests for UCAS-D". Aviation Week (McGraw-Hill): 15. 
  8. ^ "Northrop UCAS-D Completes First Flight" Aviation Week, Feb 4 2011
  9. ^ "Edwards flight engineers perform first X-47B flight" US Airforce Feb 7 2011
  10. ^ Roach, John. "UFO-like drone hits cruise mode". MSNBC. Retrieved 2011-10-12. 
  11. ^ "X-47B UCAS" Northrop Grumman
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Navy to outfit an X-47B prototype with refueling gear". Defense Systems, 7 November 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-09.
  14. ^ Sweetman, Bill. "Ultra Stealth". Aviation Week, May 26, 2008.
  15. ^ a b

External links

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