Video: Navy Launches First Ever Drone From Carrier

130514-N-ZZ999-006The U.S. Navy for the first time launched a drone from an aircraft carrier in what officials hailed as a historic milestone in naval aviation.

The batwing-shaped craft, known as the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System, or UCAS, on May 14 was catapulted 11:18 a.m. local time from the deck of the USS George H.W. Bush in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Virginia Beach, Va., according to the service.

The drone, made by Northrop Grumman Corp., was controlled by an operator aboard the ship but flew largely autonomously. After multiple approaches to the nuclear-powered carrier, it crossed the Chesapeake Bay and landed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., about an hour later. (The vehicle is set to attempt a landing aboard a carrier at sea this summer after completing a shore-based arrested landing earlier this month.)

“USNavy history is made!” the Navy said in a message on its official Twitter account. “Was airborne at 11:18A. More to come.” The service later released video of the launch.

Vice Adm. David Buss, commander of Naval Air Forces, in a release called it a “watershed event” and drew comparisons to pilot Eugene Ely’s first-ever landing of a plane on the deck of a ship in 1911.

The flight marks “an inflection point in history on how we will integrate manned and unmanned aircraft on carrier flight decks in the future,” Rear Adm. Mat Winter wrote in a post on the Navy’s official blog beforehand.

The mission showed that the craft — which is about the size of an F/A-18 Super Hornet — can be flown within controlled airspace above a carrier, the Navy said in the statement. It also proved that control of the vehicle could be passed from an operator on a ship to one on land, it said. Prior to launch, the team also conducted deck-handling and ship-integration tests.

The technology is designed to extend the range of a carrier group. The X-47B can fly about twice as far as a manned F-35C fighter jet.

Northrop has built two aircraft for the UCAS program, which has cost $1.4 billion over eight years. It’s designed to demonstrate the technology and inform a larger effort to build the Navy’s armed, carrier-based drone fleet called Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike, or UCLASS.

The service has said it plans to request proposals for a preliminary design review for the UCLASS program this month, followed by a similar request for technology development next month.

Northrop is expected to square off against other defense giants for the work, including Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Co. and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. Lockheed is pitching the Sea Ghost, Boeing the Phantom Ray and General Atomics the Sea Avenger.

Links to video for mobile users:

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Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • Prodozul

    Is there anyway I can watch it?

    • Nick


  • blight_

    Wonder if they’ll bring back the parasite aircraft concept too…UAV’s would be perfect for it, being potentially far more compact than the parasite aircraft of olde that had to carry a pilot.

    • davidz

      Maybe, but their role is arleady partially fulfilled with long range missiles.

  • Big-Dean

    The Navy seems to be taking the long view here. They realize that the future is not just a few hyper-expensive manned fighters but a mix of high (manned) and low (drones) is the best approach.

    Imagine a future where drones can do air defense and dogfight. Imagine a future where 4 or 5 drone attack manned fighters in unison. Image a drone that is a kamikaze. Imaging a future where first or second strike are carried out by waved of autonomous drones. Imagine a CAP with drones, ultra long endurance and range. Imagine a E-2D with a couple of surveillance drones they control remotely than can be used to do passive surveillance and link it back to the E-2D, without the E-2D having to go active and give away it’s position. The possibilities are endless

  • Steve B

    Imagine an enemy hacking the satellite feed with all those pretty birds being used against us.

    Imaging running out of bandwidth.

    • blight_

      Which is probably why the Navy needs to insist on local control, either from a P-3, a P-8 or from the carrier itself. It may be too much to assume that future one-man aircraft be asked to control other aircraft while dogfighting.

      • CharleyA

        Or the backseat of a F/A-18F/G…

        • blight_

          Makes you wonder if teleoperation capability can be shoehorned into a Super Hornet.

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            Well, if the Growler is any indication of anything.

        • Sword707

          I like this idea, A two seater aircraft could potentially command up to four UCAS/UAV. The co-pilot who controls the weapon system could have a display that allows them to taskout commands to the drones or even give them patrol/attack path.

          Imagine four next gen F18 Honerts commading 16 drones…. (sorry had to do it.)


          Multi-tasking to the extreme.

      • STemplar

        F22s have already repurposed TLAMs in flight. The ability already exists. This system is also going to have a higher level of autonomy in a strike capacity. Plus, sorta have to know something is coming and where to be able to know to even try and hack it.


        Much more likely. A P-8 could hold WAY more pilots on board than any fighter. And it offers range.

      • EW3

        I’d go with a Hawkeye.

        It might be OK for manned fighter aircraft to have one or two UCAVs for SEAD purposes in an initial wave attack, the Hawkeye could manage dozens of these. Remember the X-47B is not a remote control aircraft. You tell it where to go and what to do and it does it on it’s own. Very little bandwidth or supervision.

        It’d be like the way AWACs directed air operations over Iraq.


          Sounds pretty reasonable to me. Do this aircraft have air-to-air refueling yet? I believe it would be something that should be incorporated in the design.

    • EW3

      It”s pretty hard to hack an satellite RF signal.
      Remember that satellite comm antennas are very directional by nature so you’d have to get between the transmitter and the receiver, otherwise the antenna will not pick up the hacking signal.

      • Tempest

        A very strong counter-signal will do it. If the cable and connectors are not properly shielded, the signal will leak in.

      • CharleyA

        These UAS have other datalinks besides sats. But hacking into will not be easy, and no, the Iranians did not hack or spoof the RQ-170, contrary to colloquial belief.

      • EW3

        Yes that was me. Thanks for remembering.
        With SATCOM you have some similar difficulties as you do with GPS spoofing.

        Think of a SATCOM satellite antenna as a flashlight pointed down, and the X-47B having a flash light pointed up . We can use very narrow beam width antennas because we know the location of the satellite and can point right at it. (Just as we know where a GPS satellite is.) If you are not in the antenna hot spot your signal strength drops way off (numbers like -30dB
        are not unusual outside of the hot spot).

        One other thing to consider is that the receivers at each end actually are made up of multiple receivers. This is the same as with GPS. A typical civilian GPS receiver (the size of a dime) has 24 channels. It can listen to a different GPS satellite on each channel at the same time.

        This applies to SATCOM because if I have multiple receivers, if I get two different signals from where there should only be one satellite, I know someone is yanking my chains. If I detect that condition, I point the antenna towards another satellite (as there are usually several available) . So the enemy needs another RF source.

        It’s basically a game of RF chess.

        • LPF

          Simpler to take out the satelite as you will know that path they are takin

      • blight_

        EW3, my post disappeared and took your reply with it; which is hanging out in my inbox as a IntenseDebate reply. Want me to repost?

  • STemplar

    F35C better light a fire under itself. If this program works out the USN will have what it needs to reduce the buy on F35Cs.


      Who is complaining……?

  • Davis

    Stealth UAV launched for the first time off of one of our eleven nuclear powered aircraft carriers – Suck on that China!

  • STemplar

    For those that would like a link you can watch.

    • Bruce

      I was hoping this video would show the initial climb… all i got was pants.


    Applause all around, Northrop Grumman!

  • Dfens

    This headline is incorrect. I know several drones who have been launched from carriers!


      Like….? Doesn’t really matter if there have been launched drone before. Were they stealthy?

  • matt

    Imagine your family being the only on to survive because of these things? Granted.. The goal now is whoever has the most wins.. Or whoever has the biggest punch wins. But… I think life is better then that.


      Uhm, puppy loving peace forums are that way –>
      Defense talk is right here.
      “News” agencies <--

  • Nick

    Take that F-35C piece of shit! So basically an RC plane cats from a flat top and the F-35C can’t even trap during a roll on test, WTF! Oh did I mention this is just a demostrator. It’s gets better, this demo plane even has twice the range! To sum it up, this rather large RC plane will be a a fraction of the cost, twice the range, probably reach IOC sonner even though its not even in production, he’ll the RFP just went out, will trap soon and the F-35C is in production and has been in development for 12 years now and is no were near flat top ops any time soon! I don’t get it!

    • William_C1

      You do realize the redesigned tailhook for the F-35C has just entered testing, correct? The reason the X-47B has a range 33% greater than the F-35C on internal fuel is the fact that it is purely subsonic design using a non-afterburning engine that generates significantly less thrust in military power. Supersonic performance comes at a price in fuel economy and other areas, that’s basic knowledge about aircraft design.

      This is far from a fully operational design, which is the goal of the UCLASS program. This is a demonstrator that is part of the UCAS-D program which served as a proof-of-concept for UCLASS. There is a lot of hard work between now and then that won’t be done overnight. Chances are Northrop’s final UCLASS design will have significant differences. Boeing and Lockheed will likely submit their own proposals too.

      • Nick

        Read my post again! My post clearly says demostrator. The redesign hook may be testing but the full roll on hasn’t been done yet. Afterburning, subsonic, basic knowledge, who cares, my point is its lack of range compared to a demo plane. And the production ucav (who ever wins the contract), will most likely reach IOC before the F-35C does.


      This isn’t really an RC aircraft. Far from it. Northrop ain’t no Air Hogs, their aircraft can, you know, land and takeoff better.

  • William_C1

    Congratulations to all involved in this. Automated carrier landings have been done before, but never in this sense.

  • Sanem

    a lot of talk about hacking UAVs
    but people seem to forget that anything with a two-way data link, be it an F-35, an AMRAAM, a satellite… can in theory be hacked or at least jammed

    UCAVs will be pure death in air combat, because they’ll combine stealth with relatively cheap numbers and superhuman team work. where humans tend to fight alone first and as a team second, UCAVs will always fight as a team first, in a dazzling ballet of interlocking fields of fire, where any number of UCAVs might be positioned or even sacrificed to draw the enemy into a location where there is no mathematical room for escape, aka a turkey shoot. disciplined, fearless and expendable, they’ll be the perfect soldiers

  • Tony C.

    The future is now for naval aviation. The US Navy can mix manned and drone platforms into mission packages not even imagined a decade ago. An armed drone can do the dirty work to get the manned systems in and out of the target area safely.

  • Rick Eriksen

    Stealth UAV launched for the first time off of one of our 11 nuclear powered aircraft carriers – Suck on that Finland!

  • Red Dogg

    Hey back in the day USN used MQM74’s to actively engage F4’s/A4’s in ACM……This UAV stuff is better but the concept is not new. They will engage the enemy and lets hope they will be well armed. The 74’s only use a tailpipe smoke and we were not the aggressor unless the Range cleared us for same. Then we could turn from target to aggressor and scare hell out of them because they could not see us until we went into the chute!!!LOL

  • Terry Draper

    Why the need for huge expensive NIMITZ/FORD class carriers when all the bugs are ironed out in operating the UCAVs? We could put them on smaller escort carriers (WW II size CVE’s or smaller) and substantially reduce crew cost. Some of the prior comments indicated we had 11 carriers. We could have had 11 carriers if the stupid people in the Navy didn’t decommission the ENTERPRISE-what a waste of my tax dollars!. Would she have sunk from rust or whatever if they sent the ENTERPRISE on another Gulf tour? I think not. The Navy never learned anything from the air force how you keep 50+ year old B-52’s in the air with more service to come. To consider a ship at 50 years of age a liability is stupid. They are putting NIMITZ class carriers into 4 year rehabs. They should have done the same with the ENTERPRISE. And, are the UCAV’s an omen that Naval Aviation is going to shrink substantially.

  • Guest

    Also, don’t forget that these drones can pull turns at G’s that would make a human black out. Train the next generation of video game aces and these thing will be capable of doing things in a dog fight that no human flown plane could ever do.

  • arturner

    The Ford class carriers use a magnetic railgun, not a steam catapult. That allows them to tailor the launch forces to each kind of aircraft, meaning much less wear on the planes.

    The railgun requires much more power than is available on the Enterprise or the Nimitz class carriers.

  • Bob Hayner

    Incorrect! …F6F drones were launched during Operation Crossroads in 1946-47 off the deck of the USS Shangri-La CV-38!