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Navy's twin stealth drone takes flight

Northrop Grumman Corp.

The availability of two X-47B unmanned aircraft enables the UCAS-D program to conduct a faster and more productive flight test program.

Two is better than one, especially when it comes to flight testing a stealth drone designed to take off and land from moving aircraft carriers at sea. The U.S. Navy announced today it has reached that milestone in its X-47B program.

The second tail-less unmanned aircraft — named Air Vehicle 2 — took to the skies from Edwards Air Force Base in California on Nov. 22 and flew a few racetrack patterns over Rogers Dry Lake at an altitude of 5,000 feet, said Northup Grumman, who is building the plane, in a news release.


The first flight of the original X-47B took place in February. That aircraft successfully retracted its landing gear and flew in cruise configuration in September, allowing photographers to snap images that make the plane look like a UFO from a 1950s cartoon.

Having a second plane will allow for the collection of more performance data and keep the program on development schedule, the aerospace company said. 

Northrop Grumman Corp.

The second X-47B demonstrator aircraft for the Navy's UCAS-D program completed its first flight on Nov. 22 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

The computer-controlled unmanned aircraft takes off and flies a pre-programmed mission and then returns to base in response to mouse clicks from a mission operator. The operator monitors the flight, but doesn't actively control it remotely, as for other drones.

One of the twin aircraft will transition to the Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., by the end of 2011, to begin testing of precision carrier approaches, arresting landings and "roll-out" catapult landings, according to the release. 

The tests will also include testing of recently installed guidance, navigation and control software that will enable the aircraft to land on a moving carrier deck, considered among the harshest aviation environments.

The second craft will remain in California to continue envelop expansion flights, which are used to demonstrate the aircraft performance under a range of range, speed, and fuel-load conditions. 

The first carrier launches are planned for 2013 and autonomous refueling demonstrations are slated for 2014. 

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John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.

 

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