Navy catapults unmanned X-47B aircraft for first time

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The U.S. Navy and Northrop Grumman slingshot an unmanned aircraft into the skies Thursday at a facility in Patuxent River, Md., the first of a series of shore-based catapult-to-flight tests over the next few weeks.

Using the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator, the Navy's UCAS Carrier Demonstration program plans to catapult the aircraft from a ship base, making history, next year.

Mike Mackey, UCAS-D program director for Northrop Grumman, said, "Today's successful launch is another critical milestone in the carrier-stability testing phase of the UCAS-D program."

The test was conducted at a shore-based catapult facility at Naval Air Station in Patuxent River, Md. Northrop Grumman said in a statement following the launch that the X-47B did a test flight over the Chesapeake Bay to simulate what the aircraft will have to do when it lands on a ship.

The test flight also allowed the team to collect navigation data about each of the maneuvers performed. Mackey said, "It also provides another confidence-building step toward our rendezvous with history next year."

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A program goal for 2013 is to demonstrate the launch, recovery and air traffic control operations abilities of an X-47B to operate from a Navy aircraft carrier.

The Northrop Grumman Corporation, a leading global security company, is the Navy's main contractor for the UCAS-D program.