Northrop Grumman has announced that its stealth UAV, the X47-B, will be ready for initial test flights later on in 2009. Designed under a joint programme with the United States Navy, the X47-B closely resembles a strike fighter and is designed to operate from an aircraft carrier and also allow mid-air refueling.
Unlike other drones, which are remotely controlled, the X47-B will operate mostly autonomously once airborne.
The X47-B is the result of a 2007 US Navy contract under which Northrop Grumman was asked to develop two unmanned combat air system (UCAS) vehicles over the course of six years. The initial requirement for the new aircraft design is integration with aircraft carrier systems along with mid-air refueling.
The X47-B is designed to fly at altitudes of up to 40,000 feet at high subsonic speeds. Though details are not available the drone will also be capable of performing long range, high endurance missions, which will include objectives such as intelligence gathering, surveillance, reconnaissance, targeting, close air support, communications relay, ballistic missile detection and precision strikes.
The X47-B programme will include other partners including Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney, GE Aviation, Honeywell, Goodrich, Dell, GKE Aerospace, Eaton Aerospace, Moog Inc., Wind River, Parker Aerospace, Hamilton Sunstrand and Rockwell Collins.
While one X47-B has already been constructed a second one will be ready sometime later this year. No further constructions are planned until the design is validated.
According to company sources, subsystem and structural tests are currently underway with initial aerial tests scheduled for later on in the year. These tests are only meant to ensure that the vehicle can fly. More demanding tests, including operations from an aircraft carrier will only commence in 2011.
Likely deployment for the X47-B is being looked at for 2020.