Northrop Grumman-built U.S. Navy X-47B Unmanned Combat Aircraft Completes Historic First Flight

First-of-its-Kind, Tailless Aircraft Moves Closer to Carrier Trials in 2013

Core News Facts:

  • On Feb. 4, 2011, Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) and the U.S. Navy successfully conducted the historic first flight of the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) aircraft.
  • The flight, which was conducted under hazy skies at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), Calif., began at 2:09 p.m. PST and lasted 29 minutes.
  • The flight is a critical first step for the Navy/Northrop Grumman UCAS-D team toward demonstrating that a tailless, fighter-sized unmanned system can safely land and take off from the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier.
  • The flight provided test data that will contribute to the verification and validation of the X-47B’s air vehicle’s guidance and navigation software, and the aerodynamic control of its tailless design.
  • First flight represents the culmination, verification and certification of pre-flight system data collected and analyzed by both the Navy and Northrop Grumman. Prior to the flight, the test team demonstrated airworthiness of the airframe through proof load testing; propulsion system reliability through accelerated mission tests; software maturity and reliability through rigorous simulations; and overall system reliability through low speed and high speed taxi tests.
  • The X-47B aircraft will remain at Edwards AFB for flight envelope expansion before transitioning to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. later this year. There, the system will undergo additional tests to validate its readiness to begin testing in the maritime and carrier environment.
  • The UCAS-D program is preparing the X-47B for carrier trials in 2013.


  • “First flight represents the compilation of numerous tests to validate the airworthiness of the aircraft, and the robustness and reliability of the software that allows it to operate as an autonomous system and eventually have the ability to take-off and land aboard an aircraft carrier.” – Capt. Jaime Engdahl, UCAS-D program manager, U.S. Navy
  • “First flight is a giant confidence boost to the entire UCAS-D industry team. It provides us with important momentum as we now to turn to demonstrating that this first-of-its-kind air system can not only fly, but also integrate smoothly with carrier operations.” – Capt. Jaime Engdahl, UCAS-D program manager, U.S. Navy
  • “Designing a tailless, fighter-sized unmanned aircraft from a clean sheet is no small feat. Commitment, collaboration and uncompromising technical excellence among the Navy, Northrop Grumman and the UCAS-D team industry partners made today’s flight a reality.” – Janis Pamiljans, vice president and UCAS-D program manager, Northrop Grumman.
  • “The Northrop Grumman-led UCAS-D industry team is honored to have given wings to the Navy’s vision for exploring unmanned carrier aviation.” – Janis Pamiljans, vice president and UCAS-D program manager, Northrop Grumman.

Program Background

  • The Navy awarded the UCAS-D prime contract to Northrop Grumman in August 2007. The six-year contract includes the development of two X-47B fighter-sized aircraft.
  • The program will demonstrate the first-ever carrier launches and recoveries by an autonomous, unmanned aircraft with a low-observable-relevant planform. Autonomous aerial refueling will also be performed after carrier integration and at-sea trials.
  • Northrop Grumman’s industry team includes GKN Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney, Eaton, General Electric, Hamilton Sundstrand, Dell, Honeywell, Goodrich, Moog, Wind River, Parker Aerospace, and Rockwell Collins.

Navair True Heading Video:  1st UCAS-D Flight

PATUXENT RIVER, Md. – After a series of extensive ground and simulator training events, Lt. Cmdr. Eric “Magic” Buus completed the first flight by a U.S. Navy test pilot Feb. 3, 2011.”The flight was very enjoyable and went off without a hitch,” Buus said. “I’m very blessed to be on this program, and it’s a testament to the designers and engineers that this airplane flies so well. I’m looking forward to getting a few more hours, helping the team knock out test points, and delivering this airplane to the warfighters. I think the fleet is going to love this airplane.” 

“This is a great milestone for the Navy and naval aviation,” said Vice Adm. David Architzel, Commander of Naval Air Systems Command. “Having Navy test pilots flying the future of the fleet is a testament to the unique skill set provided by our test pilot school here at Pax River.”

“Technology has come a long way, and our test pilots today are doing a great job getting the technology and capability out to the front lines,” said Architzel.

The F-35 flight control and pilot interface is designed to reduce workload through automation and integration, allowing the pilot to focus on warfighting.

For new Navy and Marine Corps test pilots at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, advanced flight simulators provide test pilots the ability to complete their first F-35 flights solo, a first for naval aviation, and will be the model for F-35 pilot training for the fleet.

The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program is in the system design and development phase, focusing on delivering three different, new aircraft variants to the U.S. Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force. The Marine Corps and Navy variants represent the first fighter aircraft with stealth capabilities.

How reasonable a purchase?

Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced last year his decision to make the F-35 Lightning II ‏(aka the Joint Strike Fighter‏) as the future fighter plane of the Israel Air Force and it should be approved.

Haaretz – By Yiftah S. Shapir

…the F-35 also has some very important shortcomings. Even during the very early stages of the project there was the question of how the aircraft would be adopted to Israel’s special needs. Israel wanted to install its own weapons and electronic systems in the plane ‏(in particular, electronic warfare systems‏), and wanted access to the plane’s software source code − requests that were denied by the American side.

Another important issue was the price. As one of only two fifth-generation combat aircraft that exist now in the world, this aircraft was supposed to be the “affordable” part of the high-low mix ‏(the F-22A Raptor is the “high” part‏) in the U.S. Air Force inventory. Its price tag was initially estimated at some $50-60 million apiece, but delays and overruns in the development project pushed up the price. The final price per unit is still unknown, but is estimated at $130-$150 million. Its entrance into operational status has also been postponed multiple times ‏(most recently to 2016 for the F-35A − the model that Israel wants‏).

For many years, preservation of its qualitative advantage has been a main element of Israel’s security concept. For this reason alone, it was clear since the beginning of the JSF project that when the time came, Israel would be interested in purchasing the aircraft.

But the F-35 will not be the panacea for Israel’s security problems. Actually most of its tasks can be performed with similar effectiveness by existing planes with one type of upgrade or another. Many of its unique capabilities can be achieved even today by existing planes, upgraded with Israeli-made systems. And the high price, which will allow for the purchase of only a small number of aircraft, will mean the IAF will need to retain a large number of F-16s for many years.

Furthermore, since the F-22 is not being exported, Israel will miss the “high” part of the high-low mix. The F-35 cannot be a substitute for the F-15, which is today used both to ensure air superiority and to launch long-range attack missions. These planes are also expected to stay in the order of battle for many years, again, with upgrades of one kind or another.

There are technical issues as well. The plane, with all its marvelous gizmos, will probably be less aerodynamically capable than the older F-16. Its stealth is limited, and its early production batches will be authorized to be equipped with only a few of the weapons systems it is supposed to carry.

Therefore, if the considerations for purchasing the plane were tactical only, the deal, under the current price conditions, would not be justified. The picture, however, is more complicated. For one, the plane is not being paid for with money from Israeli taxpayers, but with American aid.

The choice is not between “guns or butter,” but between various American-made weapons systems − fighter planes or ships, tanks and cannons. The requirement to purchase such systems and the strategic relationship with the United States also rule out examining other options, such as purchasing European aircraft ‏(or even Russia’s future fifth-generation combat aircraft‏).

There are additional considerations: the advantages the F-35 deal will provide to the Israeli defense firms that will be allowed to participate in the plane’s production, and the deal’s contribution to Israel’s complex relations with the United States, which for its own reasons is interested in Israel’s purchasing the plane. It should be mentioned here that the IAF’s reputation is very important for the manufacturers of the F-35. If Israel buys it, others will want it, and the more buyers there are, the lower its price per unit will be…

China Publicizes Submarine Missile Launch

Chosun Ilbo

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Daily on Friday carried a photo on its front page of the Changcheng 200 submarine test-firing a missile.

The disclosure of the exercise follows the dramatic test flight earlier this month of a new stealth fighter jet that coincided with the visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The news was also reported by the official Xinhua news agency, the web edition of the People’s Daily, and the Science and Technology Daily the following day. They did not specify when and where the test took place.

The Changcheng 200, commissioned in 1966, is a large G-class conventional submarine, 98 m long and 8.6 m wide. It is powered by diesel engines and electric motors. The sub first test-launched a missile in 1982, but this was the first time a firing exercise has ever been made public.

“The Changcheng 200 smoothly accomplished scores of test-launch missions of ballistic missiles over the past 46 years. It received the title ‘vanguard submarine of underwater test launches’ from Hu Jintao, the chairman of the Central Military Commission, last August,” the daily said.

The sub is under the command of the North Sea Fleet, which supervises the Balhae Sea (Bohai) and the West Sea. The missile is believed to be a Changjian-10 submarine-launched cruise missile also known as an “aircraft carrier killer.” This spawned speculation that the drill was staged in preparation for the entry into the West Sea by U.S. aircraft carriers.

Earlier on Jan. 26, official Chinese media revealed the test-launch of a nuclear missile by the Second Artillery Force, the Chinese Army’s strategic nuclear missile unit.

Diplomats in Beijing speculated that China aims to show off the modernization of its military at home and abroad and enhance military transparency as demanded by the U.S. and the West.

A military expert in Beijing said the official Chinese media outlets on Jan. 26 gave massive coverage of the test-launch of a nuclear missile by the Second Artillery Force even though it failed. “It appears that the military is unveiling these weapons to emphasize their defense readiness,” the expert speculated.

Navy Bids Farewell To Trailblazing USS Los Angeles

By Lt. Ed Early – Commander, Submarine Group 9 Public Affairs

BREMERTON, Wash. (NNS) — Feb. 4 marked the end of an era for the “Silent Service” as USS Los Angeles (SSN 688), the first of the world’s largest class of nuclear-powered submarines, underwent her final decommissioning at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility.

Cmdr. Steven Harrison, Los Angeles’ last commanding officer, was joined by Capt. Mark Whitney, commander of PSNS and IMF; and Capt. Dan Prince, chief of staff for Submarine Group 9; as the submarine’s commissioning pennant was hauled down and the watch secured for the last time, ending Los Angeles’ 34 years of service.

“Thirty-four years ago, a crew similar to this one ran aboard Los Angeles, bringing life to this steel body,” said Lt. Cmdr. Darrel Lewis, Los Angeles’ executive officer and master of ceremonies for the event. “Today, we reluctantly bid her farewell.”

Launched in 1974 and commissioned Nov. 13, 1976, Los Angeles was the first of a new class of fast-attack submarines, intended as an eventual replacement for the Navy’s Skipjack-, Permit- and Sturgeon-class SSNs. A total of 62 Los Angeles-class submarines were constructed between 1972 and 1996, making the class the largest nuclear-powered submarine class in the world.

In his final remarks as Los Angeles’ commander, Harrison recalled the frontline role played by Los Angeles and other submarines of her class during the Cold War.

“The ship served proudly, as well as all the other remaining ships of the class, and contributed to victory in the (Cold) War in ways the general public will never know about,” said Harrison.

The fourth U.S. Navy ship to bear the name – the others were a World War I tanker (ID 1470), an airship (ZR 3) and a Cold War-era heavy cruiser (CA 135) – Los Angeles received many honors during her three decades of service, including seven Battle Efficiency Awards, seven Meritorious Unit Commendations and one Navy Unit Commendation. She made 16 deployments, participating in four Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) multinational exercises.

Los Angeles also made history in May 1977 when President Jimmy Carter, the only U.S. president to qualify in submarines, and his wife Rosalynn joined Adm. Hyman Rickover for an at-sea demonstration of the submarine’s capabilities.

Los Angeles’ farewell process began Jan. 23, when the ship’s public decommissioning ceremony took place at the Port of Los Angeles. Placed “in commission, in reserve,” Los Angeles transited north to PSNS and IMF to begin the inactivation process.

In taking custody of Los Angeles, Whitney promised that Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility would honor the submarine’s history.

“The inactivation and retiring of ships is an important element of our business,” said Whitney. “But one of the important elements we don’t actually talk about an awful lot when we are executing the work is one of the things we hold very sacred – that is, we will respect the honor and we will preserve the legacy of your ship.”

“We are proud to be the final crew of the USS Los Angeles,” said Harrison. The Los Angeles class was followed by the Seawolf- and Virginia-class submarines. For more news from Commander, Submarine Group 9, visit

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