N-UCAS Takes First Cat Shot

The X-47B successfully completed it’s first shore-based tests of whether the aircraft is structurally sound and aeromechanically capable of getting airborne using the U.S. Navy’s current steam catapult system.  The drone cat shot took place at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Southern Maryland.

“The X-47B shore-based catapult launch we witnessed here today will leave a mark in history,” said Vice Adm. David Dunaway, NAVAIR commander. “We are working toward the future integration of unmanned aircraft on the carrier deck, something we didn’t envision 60 years ago when the steam catapult was first built here.”

Here’s a video of what the Navy called “the start of a new era for Naval Aviation”:

This milestone follows another X-47 event we reported on earlier this week where one of the drones was hoisted aboard the USS Truman for basic shipboard suitability testing ahead of full-up sea trials in a few weeks.

So were the aviators at the nearby Naval Test Pilot School looking out the windows of their classrooms wondering if this “new era” would leave them with nothing to do once they finished the rigorous curriculum there?  Were the helo guys hooting on the fixed wing jet boys telling them that they weren’t the only ones getting replaced by robots?

And, most importantly, will this plot line get worked into the screenplay for “Top Gun 2,” that reportedly is going to be set at NAS Pax River?  (You know, stuff like engineers arguing over sine waves and fatigue life.  Action-packed, Pee Wee!)

We’ll keep you posted as the Invasion of the Machines continues . . .

Read the full article about the UCAS cat shot at Military.com.

  • Davis

    Awesome to see!!! Having this UAV will be large part in our pivot toward Asia in the coming years. It will also neutralize the effectiveness of China’s DF-21D since, with refueling capabilities, will have a much larger range the the carrier killer missile. Also like the timing of the test and the drone being put on the USS Truman. About a week after China launches a for the first time off and aircraft carrier, something we did about 100 years ago, the US about to test the first drone launched from a carrier. Overall, very excited about this milestone!!!

  • marc27

    sexy! that drone is sexy!!!

  • DB-1

    This could be the beginning of a major evolution in air combat, Imagine if you will instead of UCAV’s operating independently, what if they were also programed to act as a wing man for a manned aircraft, they could take all the risk first and there capabilities would be amazing.

    • l_veda

      now the dream of seeing R2D2 assisting pilot is tarnish…
      hmmm that is why lucas stated there “along-long time ago…”

  • Max

    That is impressive. Kudos to the Navy and Boeing

    • SMSgt Mac

      LOL. That would be “Kudos to the Navy and Northrop Grumman”

  • Ron

    I LOVE YOU MR. OBAMA— all you Nei sayers. Told ya He walks quietly but carries a BIG STICK!!!!!YAHOOOOOO!!!!!

    • BILL D

      He wasn’t in office when the first prototype rolled out, but I hope the govt uses them to get every bad guy they can.

    • Bman

      Ron, do you go under his desk much? I think I can get bipartisan support for that question.

  • Dr. Dave

    Unfortunately, the Navy is only buying two right now……..The future competition for the production variant is still TBD

    • Hammer6

      Why should the USN buy more now? Let’s get the UCAV operational concept clear, alongside proving the technology, then consider a volume purchase. Other posts point to big issues, doctrine, staffing, training, and sustainment (among others) that need work.

    • Guest

      That’s because the X47 is simply a technology demonstrator, not a full production aircraft. Think X1, X15 ect…Just here to validate that the concept can work and be applied to an actual combat aircraft.

  • Ben

    It’s a shame that these will likely be performing successful CATOBAR ops before the F-35C. Way to go Lockheed.

  • Nadnerbus

    No Danger Zone sound track? Someone contact Kenny Loggins right away.

    I will be stoked to see it perform a successful trap. The cat launch is pretty cool, but also pretty straightforward. The software will really be put to the test on an arrested landing. These things cannot get to the fleet fast enough.

    Any word on a possible use of this tech for a refueling drone? Something like this, stealthy or not, converted to haul as much avgas as possible would be a huge boost for the carrier air wing as it exists right now. And seems like it would be perfectly suited to the job of flying race track patterns while Hornets hook up for a drink.

    • Ben

      I assume it’s only a short matter of time once the software is proven.

      Northrop has proposed an X-47C, which is essentially a larger version of the B. If they use that and rigged up a way to store fuel tanks in the internal bays then install a fuel probe like they did on the F/A-18’s, you’d have a stealthy re-fueler that could get closer to combat zones and better keep combat aircraft in the fight. And you wouldn’t have to spend millions on developing and procuring a separate, dedicated aircraft!

      • Nadnerbus

        “And you wouldn’t have to spend millions on developing and procuring a separate, dedicated aircraft!”

        Damn, guess that idea is out the window then. Admirals need the job security ya know…

      • Belesari

        Or we could just build a cheap non-stealthy unmanned refueler using materials already in the fleet.

        Use much of the E-3’s equipment for what is essentialy a unmanned C-2 with a whole lot of fuel inside.

  • So?

    In other news. China STRONG! http://www.ministryoftofu.com/2012/11/aircraft-ca

    • BigDealaboutchinks

      The brits did that half a century ago dipshit

    • blight_

      I wonder if they’re color-coded in accordance with the Navy’s flight deck crew.

      That said, you still need a guy to assess launch conditions and give the signal, even if you are on a ski-jump carrier.

      I would laugh if the PLAAF really had a catapult design, but took great pains to conceal it. It would certainly make a difference with respect to projected combat loads…

  • JackBlack

    Well this is beautiful.

  • Robbie

    …….but how does it get back aboard the carrier? Didn’t see a tailhook……..

    • Ben

      It’s got one, it just isn’t testing it yet. Baby steps.

    • tmb2

      Robbie, see the photo on this page:
      http://lexleader.net/navy-rapidly-redesigns-x47b-

      They had to redesign the tailhook a couple months ago. They’ve done a few tailhook landings on a normal runway since the redesign.

  • FormerDirtDart

    While everyone is applauding this milestone, it seems to me that the program is behind schedule, and facing a huge time crunch. Just the other day they loaded the sister X-47 aboard the USS Truman. You would assume in a perfect world that they would have completed all the land-CATOBAR trials before attempting shipboard ops.

    I have to assume the trials aboard the Truman were scheduled quite some time ago, with the expectation that aircraft would be certified to “shot & hook.” Which it obviously is not. A whole lot of money can wind up being wasted if they find out during land trials that the bird isn’t structurally sound to take repetitive catapult launches and arrested landings.

    • tmb2

      It’s done a few arrested landings on land already. They discovered during the first of those tests that they needed to redesign the tailhook. The program is a little ahead of schedule time-wise, but is a little over budget.

  • dockem

    Is this the same type drone Iran got?

    • Belesari

      No.

  • Dan Gao

    Congratulations to the Navy! It’s always nice to see a totally new aircraft program taking shape. Here’s to hoping its a little less “painful” than the last few programs were. As I’ve said before, this is definitely the kind of unmanned system we should be pursuing: stealth, jet powered, and with greater sensor and weapon capacity. Definitely has a bright future for augmenting manned wild weasel and strike missions.

    Also: it’s nice to see a drone design that can actually be considered good looking

    I can’t wait to see the eventually service ready UCAVs flying off carrier decks.

  • So?

    Especially when you know that THERE IS NO CATAPULT ON THE VARYAG!

  • JimBobJoe

    Here’s what I’m worried about:
    All UAV’s may have an Achilles heel in that they could be hacked, perhaps easily.
    http://www.informationweek.com/security/vulnerabi

    They also rely on GPS more than most systems, which is another Achilles heel considering GPS satellites can be disabled easily.

    They would work great in situations where America had electromagnetic spectrum dominance, but could America achieve that over China?

    Just seems like there’s too many vulnerabilities in the UCAV kill-chain.

    I’m guessing/hoping America has this figured out enough to assure very high confidence.

    • Ben

      You’d think the RQ-170 incident with Iran would act as a huge-ass wake up call. Hopefully they’ve added a few new security requirements to make sure they’re a hell of a lot less vulnerable, or at least equip them all with a self-destruct program.

      • William C.

        You do realize that the Iranian claim that they hacked the RQ-170 is most likely BS, right?

        • ltfunk4

          Fact is they have the aircraft on display – how many F-18s have they got to show ?

          Irianian propaganda is more trustworthy than contractor lies any day anyways.

          • STemplar

            Go away Oblat and stay away please.

          • blight_

            F-18’s? None. Or so I thought. They have a number of Iraqi aircraft, from GW1.

    • EW3

      “GPS satellites can be disabled easily.”

      GPS satellites orbit the earth at over 11K miles up. That makes a sneak attack very difficult. There are always new GPS satellites coming overhead to replace the ones already overhead. So the bad guys better shoot them all down which is not that easy.

      • blight_

        I guess if the Iranians had a solar flare machine…weather control is for suckers.

    • NathanS

      I’m sure they’re improving their software and capabilities all of the time. It’s unlikely that an adversary could use the same trick twice.

      Apart from GPS, a drone could use a number of navigation techniques, from the terrain mapping technology used in cruise missiles, to triangulation of military radio or civilian aircraft beacons, to a calculations based on velocity and a compass (as the V2 missiles used in the 1940’s) – all of these could be implemented in this day and age easily.

      There’s no reason it can’t double-check it’s position using a number of techniques to prevent it being ‘hacked’ again. And should one navigation method become unavailable, it can switch to another.

  • Leroy

    well there is some built in redundancy for gps, but in the end those satellites go in defined unchanging orbits, so they are easy to take out, its a matter of big enough booster and some maths you don’t even need explosives, as simple kamikaze attack will do it .

    The problem with drones is that if you work out a way to interfere with their communications, then they are screwed.

  • ltfunk4

    China will be the first to deploy ucavs simply for the reason that the contractors are dragging thier feet trying to avoid pilotless aircraft. As soon as there is no man on board the profit margins plumet they have already seen what happened to the predator.

    • blight_

      Contractors don’t care. Give ’em billions for government rubix cubes and they’d build that. NG will build and deploy N-UCAS because they’re paid to do it.

  • zolar

    Cool. China will now buy 10,000 of them. And us? We’re gutting our military to buy Obama phones for all!

  • sailor12

    How come it did not take the wire???

  • Michael

    the X-47 makes me drool

  • ServingGreenTea

    I love the new hand signals they’re using for the ucas at 0:24 – 0:26.

  • JackBlack

    So it is a less of a disgrace or?

  • Spad Driver

    Beats the heck outa my ole skyraider!! Go, Navy!

  • C Mandleco

    Maybe the Army brass might now investigate the religious prejudice at its Dugway Proving Ground facility, as many of the government and contractor workers there have savagely complained to IG’s for years about the Mormon problem at all levels of management, especially the West Desert Civilian GS-15. Solution, it has been investigated by that’s right, Mormons who hold high level positions in the command structure and it is swept under the rug just like the many large thefts and women being discriminated against or being sexually threatened or harassed.

  • Deuce

    Farewell, pilot bonus…

  • Ernie

    Great! Now I want to see an arrested landing. It makes my old F-4J look REALLY old. I can’t wait to see it perform ACM against piloted aircraft. GO NAVY!

    • tiger

      Speaking of things, this weekend is Army/Navy game time. Go Navy! Beat Army!!!!!!!

  • dharvest

    We have some of the best minds in the world yall. Give them some space. They will work it out. There is no doubt in my mind. As a 22 year and 7 day Navy vet, I am so proud of all our services’ capabilities. Press on guys and gals.

  • ka5s

    I was an Army avionics tech in 1965, retired 1983.

    I could NEVER have thought I’d get to work on some of what makes these birds fly. But I did.

    Awesome.