Northrop Completes Third Flight Of
X-47B Unmanned Aircraft
March 18, 2011 - Less than a month after completing the
first flight of the U.S. Navy's X-47B UCAS-Demonstration
aircraft, flight test engineers from Northrop Grumman
Corporation and the Navy have successfully completed the
aircraft's second and third flights.
The flights, both conducted at Edwards Air Force Base,
mark the beginning of a process called envelope
expansion during which the test team will begin proving
that the tailless aircraft can perform safely over a
broad range of altitudes, air speeds and operating
During the X-47B's 39-minute second flight on March 1, the aircraft flew to an altitude of 7,500 feet at speeds up to 200 knots. During its 41-minute third flight on March 4, the aircraft reached an altitude of 7,500 feet and a top speed of 180 knots. By comparison, the X-47B flew only to 5,000 feet at a top speed of 180 knots during its first flight Feb 4.
"Conducting two flights of a brand new type of aircraft within
one week, and both within a month of first flight speaks not
only to the robust design of the X-47B aircraft, but also to the
dedication and engineering skills of the joint UCAS-D flight
test team," said Janis Pamiljans, vice president for the Navy
UCAS program for Northrop Grumman's Aerospace Systems sector.
flights continue to add momentum to the team's march toward
demonstrating in 2013 that we can safely operate this tailless,
low-observable-relevant air system on a Navy aircraft carrier."
to Phil Saunders, chief engineer for Northrop Grumman's Navy
UCAS program, envelope expansion is designed to fully
characterize the aircraft's flying qualities and prove that they
match the system's performance requirements and the test team's
"Over the next few flights, we'll continue to expand the envelope in terms of air speed, altitude and operating weight range," he said. "By gradually ramping up the complexity of requirements, we will systematically prove that this air system can safely take off, fly and land in all anticipated flight environments."
and the Navy expect to complete the planned 49-flight envelope expansion
program at Edwards Air Force Base before moving the first X-47B to
One of the most
important measures of performance, Saunders explains, is aircraft
stability. The X-47B, which relies on high-speed computers to manage its
flight control surfaces, must be able to adjust quickly and
automatically to unpredictable environmental conditions such as air
turbulence or cross winds. The recent test flights included a series of
maneuvers designed to measure the aircraft's ability to maintain a
smooth, level flying state in the presence of such conditions.
The flight tests also confirmed that the X-47B's flush mounted air data system ? a nod to its low-observable-relevant design ? is accurately sensing and communicating the aircraft's air speed, a critical factor in takeoff and landing.
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