The U.S. Navy and Northrop Grumman Corporation completed a successful land-based Operational Assessment (OA) with the unmanned, autonomous helicopter MQ-8C Fire Scout, at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, November 20. The OA demonstrated the endurance and sensor integration capabilities on the new MQ-8C airframe.
The MQ-8C Fire Scout collected real time data points during OA flights to validate system performance parameters and assess risk to future operational testing. The U.S. Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron VX-1 performed all of the flights over three weeks culminating in 83.4 hours of flight and 72 data points.
«MQ-8C represents a significant capability improvement to the Fleet», said Captain Jeff Dodge, program manager, Fire Scout, Naval Air Systems Command. «Testing has shown the system is meeting or exceeding our goals and the completion of this test event represents a major step on the road to Fleet introduction».
Northrop Grumman engineers’ hard work in developing the MQ-8C Fire Scout ensured that all aircraft systems successfully met VX-1 flight requirements. MQ-8C Fire Scout sensors and systems were vigorously tested at different altitudes and ranges to validate operational effectiveness. Successful integration of an improved ice detector system was also validated during OA with an alert to the test team of icing during a flight. This system allowed for necessary altitude corrections by descending the helicopter until the indication cleared so that the mission could resume its target detection runs.
«The completion of land-based OA is once again validation of the incredible performance the MQ-8C Fire Scout system is capable of», said Leslie Smith, MQ-8C Fire Scout program director, Northrop Grumman. «As demonstrated in the test, MQ-8C Fire Scout’s multi-INT (Multiple Intelligence) capability and endurance, coupled with outstanding reliability are changing the way Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) systems are measured; we have significantly raised the bar».
MQ-8C Fire Scout completed the developmental flight tests program earlier this year and now the program will prepare for milestone «C» next year. The MQ-8C Fire Scout has accumulated over 730 flight hours and flown 353 sorties.
41.4 feet/12.6 m
7.8 feet/2.4 m
Blades Folded Hangar
7.8×34.7×10.9 feet/2.4×10.6×3.3 m
10.9 feet/3.3 m
35 feet/10.7 m
Gross Takeoff Weight
6,000 lbs/2,722 kg
Rolls-Royce M250-C47B with FADEC (Full Authority Digital Electronic Control)
140 knots/161 mph/260 km/h (maximum)
17,000 feet/5,182 m
Maximum Payload (Internal)
1,000 lbs/454 kg
600 lbs/272 kg (11 hrs endurance)
Maximum Sling Load
2,650 lbs/1,202 kg
651 shp/485 kW
42.95 in/1 m
24.81 in/0.63 m
274 lbs/124 kg
1CF (centrifugal high-pressure)
2HP (two-stage high-pressure turbine), 2PT (two-stage power turbine)
The Air Force announced today the contract award of Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) and early production for the Long Range Strike Bomber to Northrop Grumman Corporation. «The LRS-B is critical to national defense and is a top priority for the Air Force», said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. «We face a complex security environment. It’s imperative our Air Force invests in the right people, technology, capability and training to defend the nation and its interests – at an affordable cost».
The future threat will evolve through the introduction of advanced air defense systems and development of more capable surface to air missile systems. The LRS-B is designed to replace the Air Force’s aging fleets of bombers – ranging in age from 50+ years for the B-52 to 17+ years for the B-2 – with a long range, highly survivable bomber capable of penetrating and operating in tomorrow’s anti-access, area denial environment. The LRS-B provides the strategic agility to launch from the United States and strike any target, any time around the globe.
«The LRS-B will provide our nation tremendous flexibility as a dual-capable bomber and the strategic agility to respond and adapt faster than our potential adversaries», said Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Mark A. Welsh III. «We have committed to the American people to provide security in the skies, balanced by our responsibility to affordably use taxpayer dollars in doing so. This program delivers both while ensuring we are poised to face emerging threats in an uncertain future».
The Long Range Strike Bomber contract is composed of two parts. The contract for the Engineering and Manufacturing Development, or EMD, phase is a cost-reimbursable type contract with cost and performance incentives. The incentives minimize the contractor’s profit if they do not control cost and schedule appropriately. The independent estimate for the EMD phase is $21.4 billion in 2010 dollars.
The second part of the contract is composed of options for the first 5 production lots, comprising 21 aircraft out of the total fleet of 100. They are fixed price options with incentives for cost. Based on approved requirements, the Average Procurement Unit Cost (APUC) per aircraft is required to be equal to or less than $550 million per aircraft in 2010 dollars when procuring 100 LRS-B aircraft. The APUC from the independent estimate supporting today’s award is $511 million per aircraft, again in 2010 dollars.
Based on current LRS-B independent cost estimates, the Air Force projects the APUC for the program will be approximately a third of the previous B-2 stealth aircraft.
«We believe this is a reasonable and achievable estimate. If we remain disciplined and keep program requirements stable, we should beat this estimate», said Dr. William A. LaPlante, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition.
The Air Force program office conducted design efforts with industry over the last three years to ensure requirements for the aircraft were stable and allowed for the use of mature systems and existing technology while still providing desired capability.
With that said, agile acquisition processes have been built into the LRS-B development and production efforts to ensure the Air Force delivers system capabilities for the best value. The program also effectively incentivizes industry to achieve cost, schedule and performance goals.
The LRS-B is designed to have an open architecture allowing integration of new technology and timely response to future threats across the full range of military operations. This open architecture also provides the opportunity to retain competition across the life cycle of the program.
«The program acquisition strategy has carefully integrated lessons learned from previous programs and considered all elements of life cycle costs in its design for affordability», LaPlante added. «We are primed to deliver this capability in the most affordable, efficient way possible».
Basing decisions and future program milestones for the aircraft will take place over the next several years.
Northrop Grumman Corporation and the U.S. Navy successfully demonstrated endurance capabilities with the MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter. On a planned 10+ hour flight and range out to 150 nautical miles/173 miles/278 km flight from Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu; the MQ-8C Fire Scout achieved 11 hours with over an hour of fuel in reserve.
The long range, long endurance flight was part of a series of capability based tests used by the U.S. Navy to validate their concept of operations and previously tested performance parameters. The U.S. Navy conducted the demonstration with support of Northrop Grumman engineers.
«Endurance flights provide a full evaluation of the MQ-8C Fire Scout systems», said Captain Jeff Dodge, program manager, Fire Scout, Naval Air Systems Command. «We can better understand the capability of the system and look at crew tasks and interactions in a controlled environment. This will allow us to adjust operational procedures to maximize the system’s effectiveness».
This is a new flight record set for the MQ-8 Fire Scout; a system designed to provide persistent reconnaissance, situational awareness, and precision targeting support for ground, air and sea forces.
«Today’s MQ-8C Fire Scout performance matches our model exactly. With adjustments, our production aircraft will have 12 hours of total endurance on a standard day. This prolonged endurance gives the Navy’s commanders a tremendous operational advantage», said George Vardoulakis, vice president, medium range tactical systems, Northrop Grumman. «Increased time-on-station and fewer launch and recovery cycles better enables the Navy’s diverse missions».
The MQ-8C Fire Scout completed its developmental flight test program earlier this year and has operational assessment planned for later this year. The MQ-8C Fire Scout has accumulated over 513 flight hours and flown 353 sorties.
41.4 feet/12.6 m
7.8 feet/2.4 m
Blades Folded Hangar
7.8×34.7×10.9 feet/2.4×10.6×3.3 m
10.9 feet/3.3 m
35 feet/10.7 m
Gross Take-Off Weight (GTOW)
6,000 lbs/2,721.5 kg
Rolls-Royce 250-C47B with FADEC (Full Authority Digital Electronic Control)
An MQ-4C Triton is lifted inside Patuxent River’s anechoic chamber on August 12, 2015 for ElectroMagnetic Compatibility (EMC) testing. This event marked the first time that an unmanned aircraft inside the chamber was controlled from an external ground control station. Triton’s EMC testing will continue for the next eight weeks to verify the aircraft’s subsystems can operate without interfering with each other.
Northrop Grumman’s MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) provides real-time Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance over vast ocean and coastal regions. Supporting missions up to 24 hours, the high-altitude UAS is equipped with a sensor suite that provides a 360-degree view of its surroundings at a radius of over 2,000 nautical miles/3,704 km.
Triton builds on elements of the Global Hawk UAS while incorporating reinforcements to the airframe and wing, along with de-icing and lightning protection systems. These capabilities allow the aircraft to descend through cloud layers to gain a closer view of ships and other targets at sea when needed. The current sensor suite allows ships to be tracked over time by gathering information on their speed, location and classification.
Built to support the U.S. Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance program, Triton will support a wide range of intelligence gathering and reconnaissance missions, maritime patrol and search and rescue. The Navy’s program of record calls for 68 aircraft to be built.
Provides persistent maritime ISR at a mission radius of 2,000 NM/3,704 km; 24 hours/7 days per week with 80% Effective Time On Station (ETOS)
Land-based air vehicle and sensor command and control
Afloat Level II payload sensor data via line-of-sight
Dual redundant flight controls and surfaces
51,000-hour airframe life
Due Regard Radar for safe separation
Anti/de-ice, bird strike, and lightning protection
Communications bandwidth management
Commercial off-the-shelf open architecture mission control system
Net-ready interoperability solution
Payload (360-degree Field of Regard)
Multi-Function Active Sensor Active Electronically Steered Array (MFAS AESA) radar:
Maritime and air-to-ground modes;
Long-range detection and classification of targets.
MTS-B multi-spectral targeting system:
High resolution at multiple field-of-views;
Full motion video.
AN/ZLQ-1 Electronic Support Measures:
Specific Emitter Identification.
Automatic Identification System:
Provides information received from VHF broadcasts on maritime vessel movements.
130.9 feet/39.9 m
47.6 feet/14.5 m
15.4 feet/4.6 m
Gross Take-Off Weight (GTOW)
32,250 lbs/14,628 kg
Maximum Internal Payload
3,200 lbs/1,452 kg
Maximum External Payload
2,400 lbs/1,089 kg
8,200 NM/9,436 miles/15,186 km
56,500 feet/17,220 m
Maximum Velocity, TAS (True Air Speed)
331 knots/381 mph/613 km/h
MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aircraft System flies from Palmdale, California, to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland
Northrop Grumman Corporation has been awarded a delivery order from the Defense Microelectronics Activity (DMEA) to deliver an advanced anti-missile system to the Air National Guard (ANG) and Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC).
Under the terms of the $31.7 million contract, Northrop Grumman will deliver three modernized third-generation pods, which are based on the Northrop Grumman Guardian system that was developed for the Department of Homeland Security, for the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command’s KC-135 aircraft. The company will also support government flight tests and provide training. The work is expected to be completed by early 2017.
The third-generation pod benefits from the Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) Block 30 configuration, which incorporates the latest system processor technology, infrared missile warning sensors, the Viper laser and a new control interface unit.
«This open architecture configuration, with its increased capability and reliability, provides the next level of aircraft protection», said Carl Smith, vice president, infrared countermeasure programs, Land and Self Protection Systems Division, Northrop Grumman. «Block 30 builds on the company’s more than 15 years of experience in battle-proven laser-based infrared countermeasures. The third-generation role-fit pod configuration offers reliable, flexible protection that is ideally suited to numerous military and commercial aircraft».
The third-generation pod provides 360-degree protection against a wide range of missile threats. When LAIRCM detects a Man-Portable Air-Defense System (MANPADS) launch, it tracks the incoming missile and uses a laser beam to jam the missile’s guidance system, causing it to miss the target aircraft. The entire process occurs in just a few seconds and requires no action on the part of the aircraft crew. The system includes a multiband laser pointer/tracker and four infrared missile-warning sensors. The system is contained almost entirely in a single pod that mounts to the underside of the fuselage and can be moved easily from one aircraft to another, as needed.
Northrop Grumman’s various infrared countermeasure systems are now installed or scheduled for installation on more than 1,000 military aircraft around the world, protecting 55 different types of large fixed-wing transports and rotary-wing platforms from infrared missile attacks.
Expanding NATO’s joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability, Northrop Grumman Corporation and its industry partners together with NATO leaders unveiled the first NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) aircraft to an audience of customers, distinguished guests, employees and community leaders on June 4, 2015 in Palmdale, California.
The unmanned aircraft, a wide area surveillance Global Hawk, is part of a broader system of systems solution that will advance the Alliance’s evolving ISR needs during a full range of NATO’s missions such as protection of ground troops and civilian populations, border control and maritime safety, the fight against terrorism, crisis management and humanitarian assistance in natural disasters.
«This marks a significant step forward in achieving NATO’s goal of acquiring NATO-owned and operated AGS Core Capability», said Erling Wang, chairman of the NATO AGS Management Organization (NAGSMO). «What you see here today is the result of one of the commitments made at the 2012 NATO Summit – to bring this advanced and critical persistent ISR capability to the Alliance to help ensure we can continue to address the range of challenges our member and other allied nations face».
The NATO-owned and operated program comprises five air vehicles and fixed, mobile and transportable ground stations. Northrop Grumman’s primary industrial team includes Airbus Defence and Space (Germany), Selex ES (Italy) and Kongsberg (Norway), as well as leading defense companies from all participating countries.
The industries of the 15 participating nations (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United States), are each contributing to the delivery of the AGS system. All 28 Alliance nations will take part in the long-term support of the program.
«We are establishing the necessary ground stations, command and control systems, and training and logistics support services at the NATO AGS main operating base at Sigonella Air Base in Italy», stated Jim Edge, general manager of the NATO AGS Management Agency.
With the ability to fly for up to 30 hours at a time, the high-altitude long-endurance system will provide NATO leaders with persistent global situational awareness. The aircraft is equipped with leading-edge technology, including the Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program (MP-RTIP) sensor. The MP-RTIP will provide critical data to commanders during operations in any weather, day or night. The NATO AGS system will also be able to fuse sensor data, continuously detect and track moving objects and provide detailed imagery.
«The level of collaboration required to bring together successfully so many international partners in the development of this tremendous system of systems capability for NATO speaks to the commitment and strength of the trans-Atlantic relationships we have built with our key partners, to deliver what is truly a European program», said Janis Pamiljans, sector vice president and general manager, unmanned systems, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.
Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company providing innovative systems, products and solutions in unmanned systems, cyber, Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR), and logistics and modernization to government and commercial customers worldwide.
NATO AGS Programme
The airborne entity is based on a modified RQ-4 Block 40 High-Altitude, Long-Endurance Unmanned Air Vehicle (HALE UAV), enhanced to support NATO specific interoperability and communications requirements. The UAV is equipped with state-of-the-art, multi-mode, Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program (MP-RTIP) ground surveillance radar sensor [Providing concurrent terrestrial and maritime Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) information in all-weather, day or night operations], enhanced with an extensive suite of network-centric enabled Line-Of-Sight (LOS) and Beyond-Line-Of-Sight (BLOS) long-range, wide-band data links.
The European-sourced ground entities include a number of mobile and transportable ground stations, all managed by the Mission Operation Support (MOS), providing mission planning, connectivity, data processing and exploitation capabilities. In addition, they provide an interface between the AGS Core system and a wide range of interoperable interfaces for data exchange with interoperable NATO/National C4ISR systems.
The Air Vehicle Missions Command and Control (AVMC2) provides overall mission command and control of multiple air vehicles, coordination with interoperable NATO and national Command and Control, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C2ISR) systems, and coordination of the ground entities through the MOS across geographically dispersed theatres of operations. This AVMC2 capability provides multiple UAV command and control, theatre-wide Battle Management, Command and Control (BMC2) and sensor and information management within an integrated ground-based Operations Centre.
The MOS and AVMC2, along with the training and logistics support elements, will be located at the Main Operating Base (MOB) at Sigonella Air Base in Italy.
The AGS Core provides unprecedented real-time airborne ground surveillance and situational awareness information throughout the full range of operations for NATO and the nations. A system of systems, the AGS Core consists of air, ground, mission operations and support elements, performing all-weather, persistent wide-area terrestrial and maritime surveillance.
Using an advanced radar sensor, augmented with off-board Electronic Support Measures (ESM) and Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) sensors and Full Motion Video (FMV) information, the AGS Core fuses sensor data, continuously detects and tracks moving objects, and provides object emission profiles as well as imagery of stationary objects throughout the observed areas.
Each AGS Core ground entity and the AVMC2 exchanges NATO standard C2ISR data with the interoperable NATO and national systems, further expanding the situational awareness available to ground, maritime, and air commanders in support of NATO missions – anywhere in the world.
The AGS Core, supplemented by national systems, will provide unprecedented situational awareness to different levels of command in support of NATO forces engaged in the full range of missions.
Changing, integrating or upgrading sensors on a military aircraft can be an expensive, time-consuming and complex endeavor. Northrop Grumman Corporation’s new OpenPod sensor system, unveiled at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., overcomes these challenges by making it possible for maintainers to swap sensors in theater.
The OpenPod system consists of line-replaceable units and a set of interchangeable sensors that can be swapped out in minutes. Enabled by open architecture principles, OpenPod is the first of its kind to accommodate a range of sensors with one pod.
«The battlespace can change quickly. OpenPod keeps the complexity of the mission in mind by allowing warfighters to match the sensors to the mission quickly, giving them flexibility they have never had before», said James Mocarski, vice president, Airborne Tactical Sensors business unit, Northrop Grumman. «When you have OpenPod, you can have Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST), you can have targeting, and you can have communications without having to acquire multiple pods. That gives our customers a significant affordability advantage».
OpenPod will be available with targeting and IRST packages at launch, followed by communications, Light Detection And Ranging (LIDAR), 5th-to-4th generation communications and other options in in the future. Because the pod allows for sensor changes without modifications to the aircraft or mission computer, OpenPod can be upgraded independent of the aircraft. That allows for more rapid and affordable upgrades and integration of new technologies.
OpenPod is the next step in sensor evolution for users of the AN/AAQ-28(V) LITENING family of advanced targeting systems. Any LITENING Targeting pod can be converted to an OpenPod, so operators can take full advantage of their existing investments, training and operational experience.
OpenPod: Enabled by open architecture
Building modular designs and disclosing data
Enabling competition and collaboration
Building interoperable joint warfighting applications – using OA frameworks
Identifying or developing reusable application software components & capabilities
Ensuring lifecycle affordability and planning for technology refresh
The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to Japan for E-2D Advanced Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft and associated equipment, parts and logistical support for an estimated cost of $1.7 billion. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale on Jun 1, 2015.
The Government of Japan has requested a possible sale of:
four (4) Northrop Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye (AHE) Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft;
ten (10) Rolls-Royce T56-A-427A engines (8 installed and 2 spares);
eight (8) Multifunction Information Distribution System Low Volume Terminals (MIDS-LVT);
four (4) Lockheed Martin APY-9 Radars;
spare and repair parts;
publications and technical documentation;
personnel training and training equipment;
aerial refueling support;
S. Government and contractor logistics;
engineering and technical support services;
other related elements of logistics and program support.
The estimated cost is $1.7 billion.
This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States. Japan is one of the major political and economic powers in East Asia and the Western Pacific and a key partner of the United States in ensuring peace and stability in that region. It is vital to the U.S. national interest to assist Japan in developing and maintaining a strong and ready self-defense capability. This proposed sale is consistent with U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives and the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security.
The proposed sale of E-2D AHE aircraft will improve Japan’s ability to effectively provide homeland defense utilizing an AEW&C capability. Japan will use the E-2D AHE aircraft to provide AEW&C situational awareness of air and naval activity in the Pacific region and to augment its existing E-2C Hawkeye AEW&C fleet. Japan will have no difficulty absorbing these aircraft into its armed forces.
The proposed sale of these aircraft and support will not alter the basic military balance in the Pacific region.
The principal contractor will be Northrop Grumman Corporation Aerospace Systems in Melbourne, Florida. The acquisition and integration of all systems will be managed by the U.S. Navy’s Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR). There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale.
E-2D Advanced Hawkeye
The E-2D Advanced Hawkeye is a game changer in how the Navy will conduct battle management command and control. By serving as the «digital quarterback» to sweep ahead of strike, manage the mission, and keep our net-centric carrier battle groups out of harms way, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye is the key to advancing the mission, no matter what it may be. The E-2D gives the warfighter expanded battlespace awareness, especially in the area of information operations delivering battle management, theater air and missile defense, and multiple sensor fusion capabilities in an airborne system.
Hardware with system characteristics that provides:
Substantial target processing capacity (>3,000 reports per second)
Three highly automated and common operator stations
High-capacity, flat-panel color high-resolution displays
Extensive video type selection (radar and identification friend/foe)
HF/VHF/UHF and satellite communications systems
Extensive data link capabilities
Inertial navigational system and global positioning system navigation and in-flight alignment
Australia now has the most advanced air battle space management capability in the world, with the Royal Australian Air Force’s Boeing E-7A Wedgetail aircraft achieving Final Operational Capability. The fleet of six Wedgetail aircraft reached the milestone this month with the entire capability, from physical aircraft to logistics, management, sustainment, facilities and training, now fully operational and able to support ongoing operations.
The Wedgetail has already proven to be highly reliable and effective on operations and this achievement will further Australia’s capabilities. The aircraft deployed on Operation Okra in the Middle East region, completing over 100 surveillance sorties with our coalition partners, flying more than 1,200 hours. The Wedgetail also provided coordination and flight safety capability for the air search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the Southern Indian Ocean.
The Wedgetail is tailored to meet the specific Air Force requirements, with six Boeing 737 aircraft modified to accommodate sophisticated mission systems and advanced multi-role radar. The aircraft significantly enhances the effectiveness of Australia’s existing Australian Defence Force and civil surveillance agencies and helps maintain an advanced technological capability.
Deputy Chief of Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal Gavin Davies, AO, CSC said the E-7A Wedgetail provides Australia with the ability to control and survey vast areas of operation, and contribute to Australia’s modern and fully integrated combat force under Plan Jericho.
«The aircraft’s advanced multi-role radar gives the Air Force the ability to survey, command, control and coordinate joint air, sea and land operations in real time», Air Vice-Marshal Davies said. «As we transition into a more technologically advanced force as part of Plan Jericho, the Wedgetail will be able to support future aircraft and surveillance systems».
The home operating base for the E-7A Wedgetail aircraft is Royal Australian Air Force Base Williamtown in New South Wales.
Boeing, Northrop Grumman
Boeing 737-700 Increased Gross Weight (IGW) airframe
Northrop Grumman «MESA» electronically scanned array radar system with 360 degrees/Air and Maritime modes/200+ NM range (230 miles/370 km)/All Weather
Northrop Grumman Corporation (NOC) and the U.S. Navy successfully demonstrated fully Autonomous Aerial Refueling (AAR) with the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) aircraft on April 22, 2015, marking the first time in history that an unmanned aircraft has refueled in-flight.
This is another historic aviation milestone for the X-47B, which in 2013 became the first unmanned aircraft to autonomously launch from and recover aboard an aircraft carrier. In combination, these landmark demonstrations constitute a major step forward in autonomy that has application in both manned and unmanned aircraft. Autonomous launch, recovery and refueling have the potential for reducing operational costs in the future.
«AAR testing with the X-47B helps solidify the concept that future unmanned aircraft can perform standard missions like aerial refueling and operate seamlessly with manned aircraft as part of the Carrier Air Wing», said Captain Beau Duarte, the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program manager.
During the probe and drogue (or «Navy-style») AAR demonstration, the X-47B performed a close formation flight rendezvous with an Omega K-707 tanker. Upon clearance from the tanker crew, the X-47B maneuvered into position behind the K-707 and successfully engaged the drogue. On completion of the refueling, the X-47B autonomously disengaged the drogue and maneuvered away from the tanker before returning to base.
«We are very pleased with the outcome of this first round of probe and drogue flights with the X-47B», said Pablo Gonzalez, UCAS-D program manager, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. «The AAR system and X-47B both performed as expected. While we would certainly benefit from additional probe and drogue flight testing, we have reached a tipping point at which AAR is now feasible».
Northrop Grumman began developing AAR technology for both Navy and Air Force application nearly a decade ago, pioneering a «hybrid» approach that integrates both GPS and infrared imaging to enhance navigational precision and hedge against GPS disruption. Initial UCAS-D flight-testing began in 2012 using a manned Learjet as a surrogate for the X-47B. These successful proof-of-concept flights demonstrated the overall feasibility of the X-47B AAR system and helped refine its navigation, command and control, and infrared sensor processing components.
Northrop Grumman is the Navy’s UCAS-D prime contractor. The UCAS-D industry team includes Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney, GKN Aerospace, Eaton, General Electric, UTC Aerospace Systems, Dell, Honeywell, Moog, Wind River, Parker Aerospace, Sargent Aerospace & Defense, and Rockwell Collins.
38.2 feet/11.6 m
62.1 feet/18.9 m
30.9 feet/9.4 m
10.4 feet/3.2 m
13.9 feet/4.2 m
Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220U
Max Gross Take-Off Weight (MGTOW)
44,000 lbs/19,958 kg
Twin Internal Weapons Bay
4,500 lbs/2,041 kg
>40,000 feet/12,192 m
>2,100 NM/3,889 km
X-47B First to Complete Autonomous Aerial Refueling