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X-47B Combined Manned/Unmanned Carrier Operations

X-47B and F/A-18s operate 'safely and seamlessly' aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt

The U.S. Navy conducted combined manned and unmanned flight operations testing aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), with an X-47B and F/A-18 operating “safely and seamlessly” together according to a USS Roosevelt Public Affairs release.

“Today we showed that the X-47B could take off, land and fly in the carrier pattern with manned aircraft while maintaining normal flight deck operations.”

The Navy’s unmanned X-47B returned to carrier operations aboard Roosevelt Aug. 17, with the X-47B team focused on perfecting deck operations and performing maneuvers with manned aircraft in the flight pattern.

X-47B traps aboard

The Navy’s unmanned X-47B lands aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). U.S. Navy photo taken by Mass Communications Specialist Seaman Apprentice Alex Millar

“Today we showed that the X-47B could take off, land and fly in the carrier pattern with manned aircraft while maintaining normal flight deck operations,” said Capt. Beau Duarte, program manager for the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation office in the release. “This is key for the future Carrier Air Wing.”

The manned/unmanned operations began when the ship launched an F/A-18 and an X-47B. After an eight-minute flight, the X-47B trapped aboard, folded its wings and taxied out of the landing area, allowing the F/A-18 to recover behind the X-47B within a tight interval. Once on deck, the X-47B was controlled by a deck-based operator, who used newly developed deck handling controls to move it out of the way of other aircraft.

“Our goal was to minimize the time in the landing area and improve the flow with manned aircraft in the landing pattern.”

The X-47B performed multiple arrested landings, catapults, flight deck taxiing and deck refueling operations, according to the release. This cooperative launch and recovery sequence is to be repeated multiple times over the course of the planned test periods.

X-47B launch

The Navy’s unmanned X-47B prepares to launch from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). U.S. Navy photo taken by Mass Communications Specialist Seaman Apprentice Alex Millar

“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.”

“The X-47B’s air vehicle performance, testing efficiency and safety technologies and procedures developed and tested throughout the program’s execution have paved the way for the Navy’s future carrier-based unmanned system capability,” said Rear Adm. Mat Winter, who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons.

X-47B and NAWCAD Hornet

The X-47B waits with wings folded aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) as a NAWCAD F/A-18 Hornet taxis. The manned and unmanned aircraft completed a series of tests demonstrating the X-47B’s ability to operate safely and seamlessly with manned aircraft. U.S. Navy photo taken by Mass Communications Specialist Seaman Apprentice Alex Millar

The X-47B will remain aboard CVN 71 for the duration of the carrier’s underway period, completing night deck handling and flying quality evaluations as well as performing additional cooperative deck and flight operations with F/A-18s.

The Navy will continue X-47B flight operations over the next year, refining the concept of operations to integrate unmanned carrier-based aircraft within the carrier environment and mature technologies for the future Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) system in development.