Video: Navy Drone Performs Carrier Landing With F/A-18

140817-N-SB299-087The Navy launched and landed a carrier-based drone in rapid succession with an F/A-18 fighter jet as part of a series of joint manned and unmanned flight tests aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt Aug. 17 off the coast of Norfolk, Va., service officials said.

The Navy’s carrier-based drone demonstrator, the X-47B, flew from a carrier in May and November of last year and is now working on streamlining carrier deck operations and maneuvers with manned aircraft.

“Today we showed that the X-47B could take off, land and fly in the carrier pattern with manned aircraft while maintaining normal flight deck operations,” Capt. Beau Duarte, program manager for the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation office, said in a written statement. “This is key for the future Carrier Air Wing.”

After an eight minute flight, the X-47B executed an arrested landing, folded its wings and taxied out of the landing area before moving out of the way for an F/A-18 to land, Navy officials said.

Overall, the Navy’s demonstrator X-47B aircraft is designed to inform the development of the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike system, or UCLASS.

Last summer, the Navy awarded four contracts valued at $15 million for preliminary design review for the UCLASSto Boeing, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. A formal Request For Proposal is slated to be released in coming weeks, Navy officials said.

Navy engineers worked on some slight modifications to the X-47B aircraft in order to allow it to both land and integrate in rapid succession with fixed-wing fighter jets.

“We re-engineered the tailhook retract actuator and updated operating software to expedite wingfold during taxi, both of which reduce time in the landing area post-recovery. Our goal was to minimize the time in the landing area and improve the flow with manned aircraft in the landing pattern,” said Lt. Cmdr Brian Hall, X-47B flight test director.

Navy officials described the tailhook retract actuator as the device that allows for the X-47B to lift up its tailhook after landing. Also, the USS Roosevelt made use of a newly developed deck handling control to manually move aircraft out of the way, Navy officials said.  As a result of these technical developments, the F/A-18 was able to touch down close behind the X-47B.

Testing and flight operations on the USS Roosevelt will continue in coming weeks as the Navy plans to perform night-deck handling missions as well, a Navy statement said.

“The X-47B’s air vehicle performance, testing efficiency and safety technologies and procedures developed and tested throughout the program’s execution have paved the way for the Navy’s future carrier-based unmanned system capability,” Rear Adm. Mat Winter, who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, said in a written statement.


About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • Nick

    Whatever your opinion on unmanned systems, this is just cool.

  • Lamel80

    I’m glad to see that this program is making progress. With all the criticism Department of Defense receives because of acquisition, Its good to see something move in a positive direction.

    • xXTomcatXx

      Notice how the process of acquisition differs from other aircraft programs. Here the Navy decided to build a demonstrator first to prove out various high risk technologies, software, and procedures. There will be tons of lessons learned from this that they can take into developing a solid, well understood, requirements set. By going this route you remove a lot of the risk that’s posed by having a production schedule to contend with. It’s too bad that you can’t really do this will ships.

  • Lamel80

    Maybe we can be hopeful about the F35 program……….. Honestly, with all the viability that plane has, I don’t understand how it can fail. I hope all the current issues pale in comparison with its classified capabilities. With this drone meeting goals and setting standards, I will remain optimistic but cheer on for a good outcome.

  • Big-D

    The X-47B can take off, fly a pattern, and land successfully, all within the last year

    The JSF, after 17 years, still can’t do any of that

    • Ziv

      The F-35 first flight was 2006. The X-47B first flight was 2011, but the X-47A first flight was 2003. The X-47B may have IOC by 2018.
      You do the math.

    • William_C1

      Except the JSF regularly does that as part of the testing program. If you are talking about carrier landings it is taking forever to do that because of the need to redesign and retest the tailhook, the low priority of the Navy variant compared to the others, and the need to minimize risk.

      The X-47B represents a relatively small program compared to JSF and that means it can move at a much faster pace. The lack of a pilot also means some more risk is acceptable and they don’t have to review every single detail 500 times.

      Also, compare how smoothly things went with the X-35 tech demonstrators versus the actual F-35. The X-47B like the X-35 is also just a tech demonstrator. It has the basic stealth shaping but not all of the refinements and RAM. It lacks the necessary software to perform various missions. UCLASS is what will turn the work done here into an actual combat-capable machine and based on Boeing’s performance with the X-47B I hope they are chosen for that contract.

  • Derek

    man, I’ve been following this aircraft for a long time…but that video is so damn cool, that the aircraft I’ve watched for years, looks like a Hollywood movie of the future!

  • jameS

    1 step closer to Skynet.

  • rtsy

    I assume the pilot station is below decks somewhere? Have they integrated it into the ships systems or did they just bring one of the containers on board and set up?

    • xXTomcatXx

      There is no pilot per se. Navy UAVs are “point-and-click” (save for during deck operations). The sailor with the mouse is below deck I believe.

      • blight_asdf…

        Looks like they’ll have a smaller, limited controller for ground maneuvering of the UAV on the flight deck. Unsure what the GCS arrangement is for the X-47B…

    • Guest

      The X-47B is fully autonomous in the air, though I expect there would be some way of routing new orders to it. Kind of blurry lines.……

  • Pete

    What no one has commented as yet - the X-47 series of craft with their top mount induction has to be safer for flight deck crew than aircraft with induction mounted low.

  • oudin

    imlove F-35C alot of money without factual evidence.

  • Elaine Glenn

    Great step ahead by “Northrop”. The aircraft’s main design elements date to early 1965, from the internal Northrop project N-300 & progressing day by day & now moving forward to more development to help for country.

  • Mark

    For those of you who use an iPad or iPhone here is a link to the video so you too can see and watch it.…

  • Joe

    Good to see. hand the long duration surveillance and or anti sub stuff to the drones.

  • Big-D

    I have a crystal ball and it’s the year 2020

    A/F47B makes up a full squadron on the USS Bush and they are engaged in daily sorties, combat strikes and carrier air patrols, flying alongside F-18s and extending the reach of the E-2D

    The JSF, once again faces another major set back, they find that the tailhook, after going through 10 design changes is still not working. It will require yet another design change and another $4 Billion and 5 more years of “development” and “testing?”

    • Mystick

      …and the Inertial Positioning System quickly loses it’s calibration due to the motions of the ship. In other words, the plane gets “seasick”.

  • the dude

    This is the future. Next is bomber and cargo drones. The days of a pilot in a military jet are numbered.

  • Steve Dixon

    I just watched the video and I’m impressed! The trap seemed to be spot-on - however the on-deck part was ssloowwww - very slow. I understand that this was a test flight and that procedures are being “developed” and am simply stating a fact - Deck Handling procedures have to be far quicker than those shown.
    I am neither for no against Pilotless Aircraft at this stage BUT I think a case for the ‘make haste slowly’ club can easily be made.
    Does anyone remember a movie (awful movie) called Stealth (?) which featured the X-47A (I think it was the A) doing it’s initial carrier operations trials?

  • Phillip

    A Phrase from Star Trek when a Computer put on the Enterprise and does a mock war game very well. The Commodore call Captain Kirk “Captain Dunsail” (pronounced “dunsel”). Mr. Spock explains the term is used by midshipmen at Starfleet Academy to describe a part serving no useful purpose. Soon Pilots will be Captain Dunsail’s

    • blight_asdf

      If you’re going to use “The Ultimate Computer” as an example of the superiority of unmanned systems, you will have to recall how it ended.

  • Jacques

    But can the X-47B fly the pattern with other X-47Bs? They are still children and lack the maturity of the F-18 or even the JSF. Can they be taught to share the toys and deck space?

  • Brett

    That is so cool! But I have one question: how can the X-47B get clearance to launch if it can’t salute the deck crew? (Just kidding!)



  • amauyong

    Wonder the scenario to counter massive swarms of kamikaze drones has been examined and the appropiate factual counter measures worked on….zzz

  • mhpr262

    I am surprised they let so many peeps stand by the sideline and watch. One computer glitch that makes it suddenly veer off to the right and it cuts a dozen men in half with its wing. Very cool and usful concept, though.