Navy Wraps Drone Test After 2 Landings, 2 Aborts

(POLITICO 16 JUL 13) … Philip Ewing

The Navy says its history-making drone has finished its at-sea testing after completing two of four total attempts to land aboard an aircraft carrier.

A Northrop Grumman-built X-47B landed twice aboard the USS George H.W. Bush at sea in the Atlantic last week, but it scrubbed a third attempt later that day. A second aircraft abandoned its first attempt — and the fourth overall — on Monday, program officials acknowledged. The drones landed safely ashore in both cases.

“During its final approach to the carrier on July 10, the X-47B aircraft, ‘Salty Dog 502,’ self-detected a navigation computer anomaly that required the air vehicle to return to shore, where it landed at Wallops Island Air Field,” said spokeswoman Jamie Cosgrove. “The X-47B navigated to the facility and landed without incident”

The drone is set to fly back to Maryland’s Naval Air Station Patuxent River later this week, she said.

The second X-47B, Salty Dog 501, “was launched to the ship on July 15 to collect additional shipboard landing data,” Cosgrove said. “During the flight, the aircraft experienced a minor test instrumentation issue and returned to NAS Patuxent River, where it safely landed.”

A Northrop Grumman spokeswoman referred POLITICO to the Navy’s statement.

The George H.W. Bush returned to its berth at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., on Tuesday, the Navy said, so it is no longer available for tests.

Despite the unsuccessful attempts, officials emphasized that the drone demonstrator program had accomplished its goal — proving an unmanned jet could land aboard a carrier — and had already taught valuable lessons as the service pursues its armed, fleet-ready successor.

“We accomplished the vast majority of our carrier demonstration objectives during our 11 days at sea aboard CVN 77 in May,” said Capt. Jaime Engdahl, program manager for the Unmanned Combat Air System. “The final end-to-end test of the UCAS including multiple arrested landings, flight deck operations, steam catapults, to include hot refueling procedures, was accomplished on July 10 and the procedures, the X-47B aircraft and the entire carrier system passed with flying colors.”

The Navy hopes to award a contract next year for its follow-on Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Strike and Surveillance program, which it wants to yield armed, carrier-ready drones that could deploy by 2020. Northrop and aerospace vendors Boeing, General Atomics and Lockheed Martin are all expected to bid on the program.

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