By Max Clarke
Defence giant Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC), launched on friday their new U.S. Navy X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), California.
Conducted by a U.S. Navy/Northrop Grumman test team, the flight took off at 2:09 p.m. PST and lasted 29 minutes. This event marks a critical step in the program, moving the team forward to meet the demonstration objectives of a tailless fighter-sized unmanned aircraft to safely take off from and land on the deck of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.
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The defence giant, listed 61st in the US fortune 500 and employing some 20,000 worldwide, was awarded the contract by the US navy as a possible replacement to the Predator drone unveiled by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in January 1994, that has recieved much media attention for its role over Pakistan and Afghanistan. A supersonic, intelligent unmanned arial vehicle is currently under development at British defence giang BAE systems.
"Designing a tailless, fighter-sized unmanned aircraft from a clean sheet is no small feat," said Janis Pamiljans, vice president and UCAS-D program manager for Northrop Grumman's Aerospace Systems sector.
The Navy awarded the UCAS-D prime contract to Northrop Grumman in August 2007. The six-year contract calls for the development of two X-47B fighter-sized aircraft. The program will demonstrate the first-ever carrier launches and recoveries by an autonomous, unmanned aircraft with a low-observable-relevant planform. Autonomous aerial refueling will also be performed after carrier integration and at-sea trials.
Northrop Grumman's industry team includes GKN Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney, Eaton, GE, Hamilton Sundstrand, Dell, Honeywell, Goodrich, Moog, Wind River, Parker Aerospace and Rockwell Collins.