Navy Conducts First Aerial Refueling of X-47B Carrier-Launched Drone

Northrop Grumman X-47B refuels for the first time. (Navy photo)The Navy conducted its first ever aerial refueling of its X-47B carrier based drone demonstrator aircraft Wednesday at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md.

The X-47B, built by Northrop Grumman, was refueled by an Omega Air Refueling Tanker, Navy and Northrop Grumman officials confirmed.

The carrier based drone made history when it flew from a carrier in May and November of 2013 and is now working on streamlining carrier deck operations and maneuvers with manned aircraft.

The Navy launched and landed the X-47B 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 in August of last year off the coast of Norfolk, Va., service officials said.

Northrop Grumman's X-47B refuels for the first time. (Navy photo)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.

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.

Northrop Grumman's X-47B refuels for the first time. (Navy photo)The refueling of the X-47B  happens as the Pentagon’s ongoing review of the Navy’s next-generation carrier-launched unmanned drone works to make sure the new platform is well-suited to operate in a joint combat environment – and prominent members of Congress continue to push for a stealthy, long-endurance, penetrating strike capability.

An ongoing Pentagon intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, review is currently exploring the range of desired attributes for the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Aircraft Surveillance and Strike system, or UCLASS.

The X-47B carrier-launched drone is a demonstrator platform designed to inform the development of UCLASS.

— Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@military.com

About the Author

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

    Was the aircraft responding to the body signals of the deck crewman or was that just for show?

    • blight_

      I believe they use some kind of handheld remote control for ground ops. http://www.cnet.com/news/carrier-bound-x-47b-dron…

      The Omega refueling angle is also interesting: http://www.omegaairrefueling.com/vms/

      Didn’t realize there were private sector people doing refueling. I guess it’s easier than trying to coordinate with a tanker unit to get refueling going for your flying demonstrators, and cheaper than Lockheed or Boeing having an in-house air to air refueling tanker?

    • CharleyA

      Having the UCAS respond to human gestures was part of testing, so no, it was not for show.

    • RunningBear

      Not exactly… the UCAV flght deck operator maneuvers the vehicle by the hand signals from the flight deck plane handlers (the same as a pilot); they also have the “KILL” switch. The catapult deck officer gives the commands to the UCAV operator(s) to launch te UCAV. No AI” involved but…their is a program underway to “learn” the had signals but still “not” AI, sorry charlie.

  • franklin

    It makes me wonder how big they can upscale the design for a really big payload?

  • Guest

    If the U.S.A. Navy keeps this in-house, they will get a bargain, else beware. Small, subtle, well engineered, they have a diamond in the making.

  • Big-D

    meanwhile, back at the F-35 Frat house Sigma Dollar Lockhead Phi, they are still smoking pipes, chugging beers and singing their Frat songs, “give us more time, give us more money and we’ll give you more excuses….”

  • Bob

    Great new war strategy for the USA. The X-47B can be mass produced much more cheaply than manned airctaft (no pilot survival systems required) and now seem to fit the WWII stratgey of overwhelming your enemy by shear numbers. Without pilots to worry about, these aircraft can be sent into the most horrendous military operations. Finally! A strategy and a weapons system that would make any enemy very, very weary of military confrontation with American power. Go Navy!

    • oblatt23

      For the same size UAVs are more expensive,

      WW2 strategy wasnt ” overwhelming your enemy by shear numbers” your confusing it with WW1.

      So your strategy looks to be in tatters.

    • tiger

      Mass produced? Yeah ok…… “Rosie the riveter” is now a flight systems tech. And she is not banging out a line UAV’s in some ex car plant like it is 1943 again.

    • blight_

      Life support systems are the most expensive part of an aircraft? Hmm, when did this happen?

      The “new war strategy” will probably be the old one proposed near the end of the Carter administration: B-52’s with ALCM’s, B-2 bombers to penetrate enemy airspace.

  • MONTI

    Not sure why this video wasn’t included in the original article.

    X-47B Completes First Autonomous Aerial Refueling
    Published on Apr 23, 2015
    The X-47B made history again yesterday by successfully completing the first Autonomous Aerial Refueling. Watch the video here. Video courtesy of U.S. Navy.


  • Charles Bruce

    If this plane can land independantly I wonder if it’s flight software could be included in manned aircraft so that they could be landed without hand on by a human?