Navy’s Second Stealthy X-47B Drone Flies

Let’s start this post-Thanksgiving week off with a picture that reminds us the era of unmanned strike jets flying off aircraft carriers is fast approaching. Yup, those stealthy looking planes are Northrop Grumman’s X-47 Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator jets. The first one took to the skies in February and the second X-47, dubbed Air Vehicle-2, had its first flight out of Edwards Air Force Base in California on Nov. 22. The plane flew to 5,000 feet and flew in several giant circles near the base before landing.

Now, AV-2 will stay at Edwards while the first jet is going to be shipped to NAS Patuxent River, Md., in the next month or so where the Navy will practice simulated carrier take-offs and landings with the jet. If that testing goes well, the plane will start landing on a real aircraft carrier in 2013, using this technology.

Unlike most current UAVs in service, the X-47 flies autonomously along a pre-progammed route rather than having a pilot control its every movement, as a Northrop Grumman announcement of the second aircraft’s flight explains:

The X-47B is a computer-controlled unmanned aircraft system that takes off, flies a preprogrammed mission, and then returns to base – all in response to mouse clicks from a mission operator. The operator actively monitors the X-47B air vehicle’s operation using simple situational awareness displays, but does not fly it via remote control, as some unmanned systems are operated.

All of this is meant to pave the way for the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike drone; a stealthy, fighter-sized, air-to-air refuelable jet that can carry bombs and ISR gear over fairly heavily defended targets. The Navy wants UCLASS to be operational by 2018, so it’s very likely going to be based on jets that are already flying, like the X-47B.

Here’s a picture of the second X-47B on its maiden flight.

  • Musson1

    What about a UAV that is catapulted from a Destroyer and retrieved via sea landing? A seaborne Predator drone shot from a non-carrier surface ship – could really extend the Navy’s reach.

    It would not need all the bells and whistles of these unmanned strike jets.

  • Sanem

    hmmmm, twins, talk about your war porn :)

    • Tim

      And they sure look real… sexy… if you know what I mean… :)

      • zardinuk

        I’m not sure if I know what you mean… sexy is exactly how I’d describe them, are there hidden undertones to your comment that I’m not aware of?

        • Rabbit

          It’s just a bit of a running joke among technology blogs in general to describe sexy pictures of tech as porn. On top of that this one’s got twins in it. ;) I’ll refrain from the if-you-know-what-i-mean comments since I’m technically on the clock here!

  • ew-3

    Wonder what the effect will be of UAVs on carrier operations.

    Do their “pilots” need to get as much air time to stay sharp ?

    Can we keep UAVs in storage like we do missiles to be broken out only when needed for actual operations?

    All very exciting stuff, next 10 years will be very interesting.

  • dddd

    I would like to see UAVs launched from submarines. I am sure that someone, somewhere, is working on it.

  • Lance

    Waste of money all it is or will be is a Billion dollar clay pigeon for a MiG.

    • Josh

      Besides the fact that it’s stealth,it’s expendable. A pilot isn’t…

    • crackedlenses

      You won’t be griping so loud when one of these babies eats a SAM for your sorry hide……

    • Nadnerbus

      Somehow I doubt they are planning on just sending them into an operational air defense environment with no plan. Their whole design is meant to get them past the MIGs and SAMs without a fight. Of course they would come up very short in a dogfight. That is what the F-22s and F-35s are for.

      I can see in the not too distant future where UCAVS like these would greatly multiply the capability of an air strike force. A mixed strike starting with TLAMS and stealth strikes against air defense networks and air bases using the above assets would be almost impossible to stop.

  • Marcelo

    Modern turbine UAVs are capable of staying 36 hrs on station at high altitude normal cruise (50-60k ft). Plus this UAV is intended to be air refueled. They have autonomy to take off in Boston, fly to England, patrol for at least 8 hrs, and return home. With air refueling, they can stay aloft for days at a time. With that kind of range, there is hardly any need for them to be based on smaller non carrier ships. They will actually have 3x the strike range of any manned aircraft any carrier on the planet has today.

  • morris wise

    Nations do not park nuclear warheads on their missiles, they are separated by miles. In an emergency special team are called out to transport and mount the nuclear bombs, that type of movement is tracked by satellite. It would be a waste of money to shoot a 50 million dollar ICBM missile loaded with conventional explosives into enemy territory; they are needed for the destruction of cities not automobiles.

    • dddd

      No offense, but 1) we (and the Russians and British) do in fact park our nuclear warheads on our missiles 2) a conventional ICBM would destroy much more than a car 3) a conventional ICBM is theoretically the best counter to fixed enemy air defenses, making it care more useful than a city-destroyer alone. Nuclear weapons are political weapons precisely because they destroy whole cities and have questionable military utility (assuming you square your actions with your objectives)–ICBMs have many tactical uses.

    • TMB

      What’s any of that have to do with this article?

  • Now to see 1 sqdn fly of UAVs, awesome,
    For Navy & Air Force units both.

  • Rabbit

    With all the advances in drone tech, it sure is an exciting time to be following defence. Seems like air dominance will still require a human touch for awhile yet, though.

  • OMEGATALON

    The mission for the X-47B might be something like attacking Iran’s nuclear facility with small tactical nuclear devices because the structures are too deep for the X-47B’s munitions to penetrate and with range in excess of 2100 nautical miles, the X-47B can be launched very far from Iran without anyone suspecting the impending strike especially if the X-47B is refueled in-air.

  • tiger

    One day we will say this is how the Terminator & the Cylons got started. Sci Fi is not so fictional any more.

  • Guest

    As critical as I am about the idea that UAVs are anywhere near ready to truely replace manned fighters, this is great news and I am very interersted in this aircraft.This is a big step forward in making UAVs a viable weapon for actual warfare rather than just COIN and light CAS. These will give carriers the long range strike cababilities the A-12 was supposed to provide.

    And not to mention it looks very nice. I’m a sucker for stealth and flying wing designs. It actually looks like a mean fighting machine rather than a glorified RC plane with missiles hanging off the bottom.

    • dddd

      My main questions are 1) if it operates autonomously, can it adapt to changing circumstances in the course of battle 2) if operated by remote, is there a way to limit the probability that enemies can jam or even detect the signal. In regards to the second question, I think UAV’s working in tandem could relay signals from the carrier group in a line-of-sight pattern that would render detection by the enemy less likely, seeing as the signal can be very narrow and unidirectional, whereas a signal from a satellite is more prone to interference. Can anybody confirm this?

  • Travis Burke

    Thats pretty sweet. I love the look of a stealth plane. I saw a few while I was on a military tourism trip in Israel. Sidebar: The trip was awesome, we shot a lot of different kind of guns, everything from pistols, to sniper rifles, to shotguns, even got to throw a few grenades. We also learned a lot of special forces techniques and got to put them to the test with a paintball simulation. For christ’s sake, we even went skydiving and learned krav maga. we literally did everything on that trip except fly stealth fighter jet. basically, just check out the company i went with http://www.lionops.com

    • Mike

      Oh to be 19 years old again.

  • Mike West

    What type of fuel does this UAV use