Unmanned jet prepares for first aerial refueling

By Meghann Myers, Staff writer


(Photo: Liz Wolter/Naval Air Systems Command

The next generation of strike fighter made another step toward the future as the Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration team prepared its X-47B unmanned jet for its first aerial refueling.

The unmanned carrier jet engaged a refueling drogue from a tanker on Wednesday, according to an image released a day later by Naval Air Systems Command.

The X-47B will conduct three airborne refueling tests before it shuts down, paving the way for the next-generation Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveilance and Strike aircraft.

The X-47B demonstration aircraft will retire later this year, after having proved the concept of a carrier-based jet that can take off, integrate into the ship’s operations, fly in the pattern with manned jets and land on a moving flight deck, said Capt. Beau Duarte, the X-47B program manager at the annual Sea-Air-Space expo.

Next up is UCLASS, which is scheduled for initial operation in the early 2020s. The system is the future of Navy strike fighter operations, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced Wednesday.

F-35C “should be, and almost certainly will be, the last manned strike fighter aircraft the Department of the Navy will ever buy or fly,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said at Sea-Air-Space.

Though the Navy will continue to need pilots for dogfighting missions, Mabus said unmanned is the future of strike fighting capabilities.

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