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US' unmanned combat jet set to fly from aircraft carrier


US Navy sailors assist with the onload of the X-47B unmanned combat air system (UCAS) demonstrator aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). The air vehicle arrived by barge from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. A US Navy photo

NORFOLK (BNS): A prototype of the X-47B unmanned combat air system (UCAS) is getting ready to begin flight trials from onboard a US Navy aircraft carrier.

The Northrop Grumman-designed tailless, autonomous stealth plane was hoisted on board the Navy's aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) on Nov. 26 to begin its first carrier-based testing.

The X-47B, which boasts a wingspan of more than 62 feet (wider than that of an F/A-18 Super Hornet), will demonstrate seamless integration into carrier flight deck operations through various tests. During each demonstration, the X-47B will be controlled remotely via a hand-held control display unit, the US Navy said.

This is the first time when a US Navy carrier will host test operations for an unmanned aircraft.

"This is a very important moment for the X-47B," said Capt. Jaime Engdahl, the Navy's UCAS Programme Manager. "The moment the aircraft set down on Truman's deck was the moment it officially met the fleet."

"Bringing the X-47B aboard Truman is a big milestone for the programme. We've been testing the aircraft for the last several years and to finally put it on a ship is so exciting. If these tests are successful, they will prove that the future for unmanned aircraft is wide open," said Cmdr. Kevin Watkins, N-UCAS's flight test director.

While technical challenges are to be expected when introducing the new system to a carrier's flight deck, Engdahl said he expects the tests to be successful citing strong teamwork between his team and Truman's crew.

The X-47B test will be conducted over a three week period which will include in-port and underway demonstrations aboard Truman, the Navy said.

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