Navy’s X-47B autonomous drone will head back to an aircraft carrier in August, this time for testing alongside F/A-18s in a working flight deck environment.
The experimental aircraft will perform takeoffs and landings aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, according to the Navy Times.
There are plans to practice nighttime taxiing aboard the carrier, and some night flights may be performed.
“The next step is to operate the aircraft in the pattern with a manned counterpart,” said Capt. Beau Duarte, Unmanned Combat Air Systems Demonstration program manager for Naval Air Systems Command. “We’ll have a couple of F/A-18s, so we can evaluate the ability to land and clear the landing area, see if we can mimic the time lines that are required for manned aircraft.”
So far, the testing has consisted of perfecting taxi, takeoff and landing routines — first from land, then from a land-based catapult, and now from a catapult on an aircraft carrier at sea.
The program hit its latest milestone in April, when the aircraft made its first night flight over Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. The vehicle operates the same no matter the time of day, Duarte said, but the option to fly in the wee hours is a big deal for the demonstration program.
“From a day or night perspective, the air vehicle doesn’t really care what it looks like outside. It’s just external stimuli that it reacts to,” he said in a May 27 phone interview. “But from a test and evaluation perspective, if we can fly at night, there’s less aircraft at night. It’s a little bit easier to get airspace.”