Navy Begins Flight Testing of Unmanned X-47B at Pax River

Drone to be capable of carrier operations.

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The U.S. military is continuing to show its commitment to the integration of unmanned aircraft, a strategy that is also being adopted in the civil world and causing alarm for many general aviation pilots, including us at Flying. This past weekend, the Navy moved on to the second flight-test phase of the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator when the drone launched for the first time from the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland.

The Pax River flight proceeded for 35 minutes and reached 180 knots and 7,500 feet. Targeted top speed is high subsonic. Developed by Northrop Grumman, the X-47B not only lacks a cockpit, it is also tailless and is powered by a single jet engine. It looks like a combat airplane and sounds like one too, as evidenced by this video:

The X-47B first flew out of Edwards AFB in February 2011 and completed its initial test phase there. Flight testing in Pax River will focus on getting the drone ready for its first aircraft carrier landings, which Matt Funk, the lead test engineer for the UCAS, expects next year. In addition to being the first drone the Navy has developed for air carriers, it is also expected to become the first unmanned aircraft with aerial refueling capabilities.