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US Navy's combat drone begins flight trial alongside fighter jet from carrier deck


Operating alongside an F/A-18, the X-47B has demonstrated two successful launch and recovery sequences. A Northrop Grumman photo

WASHINGTON (BNS): Resuming flight trials from aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), the US Navy's newest combat drone, the X-47B has demonstrated its seamless operations alongside a manned combat aircraft.

During the flight trials, conducted in the Eastern Atlantic on August 17, the X-47B flew in landing pattern with the F/A-18 Hornet at approach speeds of 120 miles (193-km) per hour, at a pattern altitude of 1,200 feet.

After an eight-minute flight, the X-47B executed an arrested landing, folded its wings and taxied out of the landing area.

The deck-based operator used newly developed deck handling control to manually move the aircraft out of the way of other aircraft, allowing the F/A-18 to touch down close behind the X-47B's recovery, the US Navy said.

"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," said Capt. Beau Duarte, programme manager for the Navy's Unmanned Carrier Aviation office.

"This is key for the future Carrier Air Wing."

The X-47B will remain aboard CVN 71 for the duration of the underway period. It will perform additional cooperative deck and flight operations with F/A-18s and complete night deck handling and flying quality evaluations, the Navy said.

The Northrop Grumman-built X-47B pilotless aircraft, which boasts of a wingspan of more than 62 feet (wider than that of the F/A-18 Hornet), began its carrier-based flight demonstrations in December 2012 from onboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75).

After successfully completing the flight trials, the X-47B undertook carrier deck operations from aboard USS George H.W. Bush in May 2013, during which period it completed the first-ever catapult launch.

The X-47B prototype is designed as a technology demonstrator.

The Navy said it will continue the drone's flight operations over the next year to refine the concept of operations to demonstrate the integration of unmanned carrier-based aircraft within the carrier environment and mature technologies for the future Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike system.

The US is reportedly planning to deploy such stealth drones in Asia mainly to deter its adversary, China.

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