Video: U.S. Navy initial flight (and heavy landing) of the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator.

Jul 31 2012 - 5 Comments

On Jul. 29 (or Jul.30 – the news release and the footage have a different timestamp), the U.S. Navy made history after it conducted the Naval Air Station Patuxent River’s initial flight of the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator (UCAS-D).

The tailless, unmanned aircraft launched from “Pax River” and flew for a planned 35 minutes over the Chesapeake Bay chased by an F-18D Hornet.

Noteworthy, the ‘bot performed a quite heavy landing: this is sometimes the outcome of a flare performed by a pilot who’s not sitting in the cockpit but remotely flies the aircraft. Drone pilots don’t feel the motions of their aircraft. Therefore, they lack some of those non-visual cues that help manned aircraft pilots to react instintively to some changes of attitude.

However, the (seemingly) heavy landing was not a big deal for the X-47B, a UCAS that was developed as a carrier-based unmanned aircraft. As such, the drone is equipped with a reinforced landing gear to withstand (heavy) deck landing impacts.

  • Chris Cicchitelli (@ChrisCicc)

    Heavy landing? Looked textbook to me?

  • Anonymous

    The no-flare landing is necessary for CTOL (conventional take-off & landing) carrier operations and therefore probably part of the design. Flaring risks clipping the end of the deck with the landing gear, so by using a straight angle without any flare, the aircraft can aim for one of the 4 arrestor cables strung out across the end of the deck. Flaring would decrease the vehicles probability of hooking one of the cables thereby resulting in a “bolter”. Carrier landings require full throttle on touchdown just in case they miss the hook and need to takeoff and go around again and flaring would decrease the speed that would make this possible. Also, the X-47 is fully autonomous and doesn’t have a pilot in-the-loop flying the vehicle at any point. Hard-landings I suspect are per design.

  • David

    Just a couple of corrections — this was merely the first flight on the East Coast at NAS Patuxent River — the aircraft had flown several times at Edwards previously.

    Additionally, as the anonymous poster above mentioned, the “no flare” landing is by design and has nothing to do with the missio operator. It its not a remotely controlled aircraft with a stick and throttle at the operations station, it’s a keyboard and mouse setup.

    • David Cenciotti

      Hi David,

      I know it wasn’t the first flight, as we have already reported a bit about the X-47B. However, it’s the Navy that gave a lot of emphasis to the event, defining it “historical”, most probably because it’s the first made from its Naval Air System Command.

      Thanks for explaining how the drone lands: didn’t know it’s a keyboard and mouse setup.

  • MrSatyre

    For a carrier-based aircraft, that landing looked very smooth and soft.