Navy hoists X-47B aboard USS Truman

Sailors hoisted the first unmanned aircraft capable of carrier operations aboard the USS Harry Truman on Monday at at Norfolk naval base, Va. It marked the first time the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System, built by Northrop Grumman, has boarded a ship.

Navy officials transported the X-47B demonstrator from it’s home at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., to the Truman to prepare it for the tests the Navy has planned for one of only two demonstrators build thus far. Navy and Northrop engineers will test it in port and underway on the Atlantic Ocean.

The Navy plans to fly the X-47B from the carrier this winter follow weeks of on board tests. The Truman received software upgrades to operate the X-47B, which will allow sailors and Northrop contractors to fly the UCAS with hand-held controllers.

Below is a video of the Navy hoisting the X-47B aboard the Truman. Mobile readers can click here.

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Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to He can be reached at
  • peter

    doesn’t matter, the chinese have already stolen a copy off the net

    • andy

      A copy and paste will never work.

      • JackBlack

        Says you.

    • DieHardDeuce

      They didn’t build that…

    • Stan

      It was most likely made in China.

  • Tiger

    The Day of the “Tinman” cometh…..

  • whoaa

    Wow that’s really big, I thought Iran may have gotten it, but no way this is too big compared to that small thing they showed lol.

    • Tommy

      it’s not the same plane amigo

    • sailor12

      The one Iran got was made by Lockheed Martin

  • Lance

    Hope the guy with the remote control flying it doesn’t miss the trap and flies into the ocean LOL.

    • tmb2

      Most UAVs are automated during landing, but a trap is still a tricky thing.

      • JackBlack

        Most UAVs
        are automated during
        land based landing.

        • Lance

          Doesn’t mean a mistake can happen. Computers are not perfect too.

          • Tiger

            Well that is because your a Winblows PC user, says the loyal Mac fan.

        • David

          An f18 already landed on a carrier autonomously using the landing software. The remote is just to move it when on deck.

        • tmb2

          Every Army UAV in combat uses an automated landing program.

  • ajerusalem

    so…the chinese just figured out how to land a MANNED plane on a ship. So we’re gonna land a plane on a ship WITHOUT ONE.


    • Paisano

      That was so GOOOOD

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      Landing an unmanned plane on a ship is not the problem.

      Doing it in such a way that the plane (and the ship, for that matter) can be used again, THAT’S the problem.

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen

      • EW3

        I’m starting to think it’s not nearly as difficult as has been made out. (ducking)

        The dynamics are well understood, and with the advances in miniature electronics we can monitor the flight deck’s motion and the UAV’s motion in 3D with great precision and frequency (50-100 times per second). And in precision laser distance and speed (Doppler) and we can provide lots of data to the computer doing the driving. We can also integrate things like wind speed/direction over the fantail of the deck to do things humans could not even keep up with.

        The notion that it is so difficult stems from an era where a GPS receiver was the size of a refrigerator and accelerometers where the size of softballs and not the size of a penny.

        • blight_

          I wonder how much of it is measurements done on the carrier and relayed to the UAV, and how much of it would be electronics on the UAV to measure the landing area for itself. The latter imposes a weight penalty on the airframe, the former presents a risk if the carrier has incurred some damage and is unable to relay appropriate data.

      • tiger

        I think it is amazing how far we have come from Eugene Ely’s stunts in a century. It is a crime, A CVN is not named in his honor.

  • Big-Dean

    Hey everyone, let’s play arm-chair admiral and say how we’re going to use these things

    My guess is a high low mix alpha strike type of thing. Send a whole bunch of these things in first with echo generators and other spoofs and have the bad guys shoot their wad up, tomahawks would follow closely behind, then we come in with Growlers, HARMS to clean up whatever is left then the main strike force comes in.

    • tmb2

      Most of the discussions I’ve seen about this thing portray a second or third wave preprogrammed bombing run where there is minimum surface to air threat and the mission is “fly from A to B, drop a bomb, come back to base” leaving the more complex missions for the manned strike aircraft. The X-47B itself isn’t meant to be an operational aircraft and is classified as a “demonstrator” meaning it will test out all the relevant technologies and tactics a later UAV fleet might use. The operational successor to the X-47B might just be stealth enough to do Day 1 or Night 1 strikes.

      • David

        They would be used in the first wave to take out the anti air installations when the threat to aircraft and their actual human pilots is greatest. You can program a mission of high complexity with ease. Mission plans can be changed mid flight as information is reassessed. They would also be used for surveillance, ew, and loiter waiting for targets. If they do scale it up to the C it will be able to carry a whole lot of sdb.

        The x47b is already stealthy. Notice the smooth tailless design with no right angles.

        • tmb2

          I’ve read that the X-47B has stealth characteristics, but haven’t seen anything that no-kidding says it’s a stealth aircraft. If they’ve got to that point then that’s awesome. When I said complex missions, I meant things that require maneuvering and reacting to enemy activity. A fully stealth UCAV could fulfill the roles we gave to the F-117 or B-2 as far as first day strikes. I wonder if it could be used to just orbit and wait for a mission? How long are the legs on this bird?

          • Niko

            Could one of these shadow a task force undetected? If so it might have the same advantages as an attack sub, with the added benefit that you can command it in real time.

    • tiger

      Well first missions I really want this thing to start doing is the Boring stuff. Air refueling tanker is top priority in my book. Without a Man on board, A UCAV can have more room designed for fuel rather than a Cockpit. #2 Mission is A replacement for the S-3 in the ASW/ long strike role. #3 role is Replacing the E-2 in the AEW role. Fit powerfull airborne radars & let them feed the info back to the ship rather than a plane full of techs.

  • TimUk

    Surely these will go in first in any strike along with the thousands of decoys the USAF and US navy are amassing. Another reason that the JSF should be curtailed.

    MLAD seem to never be discussed on here , when arguably its they not the JSF or F22 that will be at the centre of action.

    • TomUK

      Try Norman Friedman’s “Unmanned Combat Air Systems” – explains the ‘swarm’ concept, etc., rather well.

  • Sanem

    X-47B 1, F-35C 0

    between the X-47B and Predator C Avengar, there will be little use for manned aircraft. human pilots will be just another asset that is employed for very specific missions, but usually not worth the risk and cost

    the UAVs, together with cruise missiles and eventually rail guns will completely change naval air power, bringing stealth, endurance and numbers into the game

    the F-35 only offers stealth and technology that will be add-on for every modern aircraft by the time it becomes operational, but at double or triple the price, and which doesn’t compensate for its lack of range or endurance

    right now there’s only talk of UCAVs as demonstrators and missions humans don’t like, as not to scare the manned aircraft community
    but eventually these aircraft, like the Predators and Reapers over Iraq and Afghanistan, will prove their superiority over manned aircraft in most missions, at a much lower cost
    for one thing, it won’t be long before they start arming them with AMRAAMs

    not that any of this matters any more, as the US will soon go the way of Russia, as a has been power trying to please its Chinese owners

    • Airdale

      I want to see the day a Rail gun is deployed on something smaller than a C-17.

    • tiger

      The folks on the Galactica seem to hold their own vs Cylons. But despite the thumbs down, your right. The days of Maverick & the IceMan are fading. Not in my projected lifetime, but come 50-60 years You may be right.

  • TonyC

    UCAV’s are for access denial infiltration and elimination. In other words, meet the new Wild Weasel mission platform.

  • blight_

    They might get good use as CAP aircraft. Detect target, fly towards it, fire missiles, buy time for manned aircraft to get there.

    Or they may get offensive use as a second strike component, following up after the door is kicked in by manned aircraft. In the grand scheme of things, more aircraft to shoot down and perhaps less pilots lost in the long run. However, there is still no scheme to quickly replenish unmanned aircraft losses.

    When it comes to WW3, we’ve yet to figure out rapid replenishment of VLS tubes and rapid replacement of the air wing. In WW2 we used escort carriers to shuttle aircraft, but we don’t have such a luxury here. I guess we could use the Enterprise for such for a little while…or if we had more money, refurb the remaining CV’s as aircraft shuttles. Otherwise, a carrier will have to fly back within range of a staging point: thank god for Hawaii?

    We’d probably have to bring up Pacific island infrastructure to support island-hopping of replacement aircraft, though that just means more targets for attack and to defend and resupply.

    • Kyle Stoddard

      Don’t ya think that whole problem would be solved by using aerial refueling assets?

      • blight_

        It’s currently how it’s done, but do we have the refuelling fleet to push replacements forward in addition to supporting strike packages without stripping the planet of KC-135s and KC-10’s? I imagine we could dig into the ANG for planes…

        • STemplar

          We have plenty of tankers if you use realistic #s and not the absurd scenarios the doomsday crowd uses to justify programs.

        • tiger

          Actually, Refueling is the Mission I really need a UCAV to do first. No cockpit means more room for fuel. No man means no endurance issue. Next on the to do job list is replacing of the S-3 & the E-2’s in ASW & AEW.

    • EchoTime

      We do not need Ground based transmitters, that’s what SATCOM’s are for Duh!

      • blight_

        You mean the sats that the the PRC has demonstrated capability against? Or the sats that are vulnerable to solar flares and have serious issues teleoperating UAVs if asked to do more than hover and drop guided missiles on automobiles and entrenched Taliban fighters?



    • TomUK

      No. Hal 5000 is.

      • Matrix3692

        i thought EDI is in the control…..

        • Prodozul

          You’re all wrong… Cortana is in control.

          • blight_

            Durandal is in control.

  • Musson

    I still say the Navy needs a flying sub – just like in ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.’

    • top dog

      You’re gonna mess around and tell your age Musson, so am I, because I remember that one. That was one of my favorite shows, I thought that flying sub was the coolest thing in the world back then.

    • tiger

      I miss that show too.

  • Steve B

    I question the entire UACV approach. I foresee major issues with lack of satellite bandwidth as well as a network vulnerable to hacking.

    Aircraft with pilots, while having concerns about losses, are going to be proven to be more reliable when crunch time comes.


    Now that we inadvertently gave the technology to the Iranians and as a result, probably the Chinese, Russians, North Koreans or anyone else they can use to their advantage and against us…. How hard will it be to shoot them down…. I hope the contractor has been able to harden its systems to hacking and its stealth ability hasn’t been compromised.

  • Dan Gao

    Definately following this program closely. These are exactly the kind of UAVs we should be investing in: Stealth, jet powered, more autonomous, and with better sensor and weapon payloads. Something that will be useful in a defended airspace. Reapers and Predators are great for COIN, but there’s no way they’d last over Korea or the South China Sea.

  • Dan Gao

    These are exactly the kind of UAVs we should be investing in: Stealth, jet powered, more autonomous, and with better sensor and weapon payloads. Something that will be useful in a defended airspace. Reapers and Predators are great for COIN, but there’s no way they’d last over Korea or the South China Sea.

  • Hope it works better than the artificial intelligence algorithm that wrote this article?

  • STemplar

    How about the fact the X47 is going to do a carrier landing before the C F35 does.

    These should prove to be a real boon to carrier strike. The combat radius alone makes it worthwhile. You add in the EM testing they did an you have to wonder about the non.kinetic weapons bein planned. With the recent CHAMPS missile test l think its an obvoous mission for these. The persistance, range an LO specs will make for a good OTH redundant targeting capability for.other weapons as well l would think.

  • Si vis pacem, para bellum,

    Semper Fidelis,


  • lne68

    Boy, I hope they land it faster than that.

  • anthony

    It will do its job.Most likelly front let hope the operator does his best for the test,how many are we gonna build in this present time?

  • gypsysnipe

    Game changer.

  • John In Jacksonville

    One great advantage is that the flesh-and-blood pilot will no longer be the limiting factor on now fast the aircraft can accelerate, turn, dive, etc. It will make the most extreme stunt flyer look tame. Decision makers will feel more flexibility about sending them into hgh-threat environments since no pilot will be at risk. Definitely a technology worth investing in.

  • Tactical aircraft are G-limited based on structural and fatigue considerations, not aircrew considerations.

    This aircraft is inferior to the F-35C in every respect besides range and endurance capability. That’s why it’s primarily an ISR platform. Read the Naval Aviation Vision documents that NAVAIR releases if you want to educate yourselves on what this aircraft and UCLASS are intended to do for the Fleet and in what numbers. Or you can continue to engage in mindless, uninformed speculation. Good grief.

    • STemplar

      This is still a demonstrator. It also has the F35 beat in a very important way. Its going to land on a carrier and be operational far sooner. Plus since its not a final version l bet it will be designed to accomondate JASSMs internally which would be another huge advantage.

      • William C.

        We don’t know how extensive the final redesign may be, it’s a stretch to say it will be operational before the F-35C. As for the landing, that’s due to the safety matters. No pilot. The USN has been toying with technology to allow for “automatic” carrier landings for years. Most recently with the F/A-18E/F but as far back as some modified variants of the F-4 Phantom II.

  • Big-Dean

    Check out this link, a nice video of it’s first cat from land

  • Couldn’t they have come up with or built a better way to get the drone on the carrier? Having to use a crane every time doesn’t seem too efficient to me.