The U.S. Air Force Edwards Air Force Base issued the following news release:
With the support of Team Edwards, the United States Navy became one step closer to seamlessly integrating the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator into aircraft carrier operations. The first test phase, which validated the X-47B's airworthiness, wrapped up May 15 after more than two years of testing.
Flight test at Edwards was so successful, that the aircraft was able to begin carrier suitability testing before making the journey on a flat-bed truck to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., where beginning this summer, the second phase of testing will be carried out.
"The Air Force Flight Test Center was clearly a major partner to Northrop Grumman and the Navy," said Brooks McKinney, Northrop Grumman Public Relations senior manager. "It was a great team; a very solid, positive team with everyone focused on getting the aircraft into the best shape and flying as often as possible."
Edwards will continue to shape the X-47B program, as the base will send support personnel to assist in the next phase of testing.
"The Air Force X-47 team did a wonderful job hosting the program and even lent a hand in the actual test results by providing some world-class maintenance and logistics test and evaluation support," said Lt. Col. Landon Henderson, Global Vigilance Combined Test Force director. "The Navy was so impressed by our Air Force testers they actually drafted them to help out with the program. The Air Force is assigning logistics test and evaluation troops full time to Pax [River] and pulling them in from the 412th Maintenance Group here at Edwards."
During the program's time at Edwards, which spanned from January 2010 to May 2012, the CTF was responsible for project management oversight on behalf of the 412th Test Wing and made sure that the test program was successfully integrated into the Edwards community.
According to Tighe Parmenter, who is the Manager of Business Development for the UCAS-D program, the X-47B flew 23 times at Edwards in various aircraft configurations and flawlessly navigated the ranges of the flight envelope. Another accomplishment for the program while at Edwards was demonstrating effective command and control, which allowed for the reclassification of the X-47B from "unproven" to "experimental."
The remote location of Edwards and its 308,000 acres of land provided the ideal location, resources and infrastructure for the X-47B aircraft's airworthiness test phase. Of particular importance was the unique surface of the 44-acre Rodgers Dry Lake Bed, which provided the Navy's program with a safety net, in the event the aircraft experienced an in-flight emergency and was forced to land.
"Edwards was ideal due to the runway and lakebed landing surface arrangement, which has helped many programs perform first flights. The length and width of the main base runways, as well as the ample landing surfaces on the lakebed, provided a lot of options for recovery of the air vehicles in case it ran into trouble, which they never did," said Henderson.
According to Henderson, when the X-47B took off, it was immediately able to enter its assigned airspace free from other traffic. Not only did this deconfliction reduce risks to other ongoing test programs, but it also allowed the team to build confidence in the vehicle's capability to perform as expected.
The U.S. Navy's UCAS-D program, which originally began as a program under the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, seeks to prove that an autonomous aerial vehicle can seamlessly integrate into the highly structured, rapid and demanding operations onboard an aircraft carrier.
Carrier operations require precision, calculated lightning-fast decisions, and the ability to communicate by sending and receiving visual cues to successfully carry out the mission - a unique challenge for the UCAS-D program.
With successful completion of the airworthiness test phase at Edwards, the X-47B program took a giant step forward in making that integration possible.
The test means the Navy is one step closer to demonstrating the first carrier-based recoveries and launches of an autonomous, low-observable relevant unmanned aircraft.
The flight test lasted approximately 29 minutes and was conducted at Edwards Air Force Base, CA.