Northrop Grumman Corporation and the U.S. Navy successfully completed a series of autonomous aerial refueling (AAR) tests designed to demonstrate technology that will extend the operating range and flight duration of future carrier-based unmanned systems.
The tests, carried out using Calspan Corporation’s Variable Stability Learjet as a surrogate for the X-47B unmanned aircraft, and a K707 tanker provided by Omega Air Refueling proved the functionality of the hardware and software that will eventually enable the X-47B aircraft to demonstrate AAR in 2014.
The tests are part of ongoing work in the US Navy’s Unmanned Combat Air System Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) program, and are designed to prove out technology which will eventually lead to unmanned aircraft being able to stay aloft for longer periods of time.
According to Carl Johnson, vice president and UCAS-D program manager for Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems sector, “Future unmanned systems will need to use both refueling techniques if they plan to conduct longer range surveillance or strike missions from the carrier.”
Johnson was referring to two different aerial refueling techniques that were the subject of the recent testing — boom/receptacle and probe-and-drogue aerial refueling.
According to a Northrop Grumman news release, the UCAS-D program plans to demonstrate the ability of the X-47B demonstrator to safely operate from a Navy aircraft carrier, including launch, recovery, bolter and wave-off performance by 2013, followed by autonomous aerial refueling in 2014.