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US Navy achieves first catapult launch of a drone from an aircraft carrier

16 May 2013

The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator (UCAS-D) has completed its first ever carrier-based catapult launch from the USS George H.W. Bush.

The drone takes off from the USS George H.W. Bush. US Navy photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman by Alan Radecki
The drone takes off from the USS George H.W. Bush. US Navy photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman by Alan Radecki

"Today we saw a small, but significant pixel in the future picture of our Navy as we begin integration of unmanned systems into arguably the most complex war fighting environment that exists today: the flight deck of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier," said Vice Admiral David Buss, commander, US Naval Air Forces.

The unmanned aircraft was launched from the deck of George H.W. Bush on Tuesday May 14, executed several planned low approaches to the carrier and safely transited across the Chesapeake Bay to land at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, after a 65-minute flight. Buss called the launch a "watershed event" in naval aviation.

Completing another important first for the UCAS-D programme, the team demonstrated the ability to precisely navigate the X-47B within the controlled airspace around an aircraft carrier at sea and seamlessly pass control of the air vehicle from a 'mission operator' aboard the carrier to one located in the Mission Test Control Centre at NAS Patuxent River for landing. 

"The flight today demonstrated that the X-47B is capable of operation from a carrier, hand-off from one mission control station to another, flight through the national airspace, and recovery at another location without degradation in safety or precision," said Matt Funk, lead test engineer for the Navy UCAS programme.

Over the next few weeks, the X-47B aircraft will fly approaches to the ship multiple times and eventually land on the pitching flight deck later this summer.

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