for all loads and center-of-gravity
locations that the air vehicle would
He acknowledged that getting
the aircraft onto a carrier would be
a major technical hurdle.
“The first challenge is that the air-
frame itself is designed to the same
levels as a manned aircraft,” he said.
“So the requirements we had to put
into the design would be the same as
an F- 18 or F- 35 [Lightning II] to
land on the carrier. So structurally,
the airframe itself has to be designed
within the same margins that cur-
rently operate off a carrier today.”
The difference between this air-
craft and other unmanned systems
is “in the precision required to put
an unmanned aircraft on a carrier
deck. It’s a more stringent level
than a manned system,” Saunders
said. “The accuracy in the naviga-
tion system is a new development
for an unmanned system.”
The company also has been devel-
oping wireless technologies to help a
deck-based operator integrate it with
the rest of the flight deck.
“The intent is for it to be a seamless operation with
manned systems,” Saunders said.
Saunders also is the chief engineer for Northrop’s
UCLASS program, as the company intends to pitch the
X- 47 for that role. The company likely will have other
competition when the Navy issues a request for proposals at some point down the road. Boeing, for example, has been working on a concept demonstrator
known as the X- 45 Phantom Ray, which also is a tailless fixed-wing drone.
The drone will not just have strike capabilities. The
Navy wants an aircraft that could conduct ISR work
and potentially do air-to-air refueling.
The question over whether unmanned systems
could at some point replace manned systems in the
strike fighter realm has sparked much debate over the
future of aviation. Saunders said he does not think
UCLASS or any similar capability could ever fully
replace a manned system, but rather “provide an
extension to the manned operator, giving [the Navy]
the flexibility of going to an unmanned system to do
things to put the human operator in less harm.
“A few of these unmanned systems as your wing-man would be a perfect situation where the battle is
dangerous,” he added. ■
An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator completes its
first test flight over Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Feb. 4. UCAS software will
be loaded aboard surrogate aircraft for tests at an aircraft carrier later this year.
The first onboard tests with the UCAS aircraft are scheduled for fiscal 2012.
Part of the issue is simply learning how to move the
aircraft on the deck. Another part is interfacing it with
carrier systems, which the surrogate aircraft will help to
solve. And yet another part is landing an unmanned
fixed-wing system on a moving target — the carrier deck.
The program will take a gradual approach to each of
these problems, Blottenberger said.
“This crawl-walk-run philosophy we have is predicated on us learning lessons and evolving,” he said.
He said the first onboard tests will take place in fiscal 2012 when the program hoists a UCAS onboard a
carrier deck and does taxiing tests, followed by actual
takeoffs and landings in 2013.
Philip Saunders, Northrop Grumman’s chief engineer for the UCAS program, said the company now is
focused on expanding the envelope for UCAS.
“What we’re doing there is verifying stability and
control of the air vehicle itself, and at the same time
validating the air data system — how accurate is the
air speed angle or attack angle or sight measure-
ments?” Saunders said. “So we’re taking that up to
7,500 feet and up to 180 knots, and down to a low
speed of 140 knots.”
Saunders said he hopes to finish up envelope expan-
sion this year and get the aircraft flying at up to 225 knots