> our title:
X-47B First to Refuel Autonomously In Flight
> original title:
X-47B First to Complete Autonomous Aerial Refueling
(Source: US Naval Air Systems Command; issued April 22, 2015)
The X-47B receives fuel from an Omega K-707 tanker April 22 while operating over the Chesapeake Bay. This test marked the first time an unmanned aircraft refueled in flight. (US Navy photo)
While flying off the coast of Maryland and Virginia, the X-47B connected to an Omega K-707 tanker aircraft and received over 4,000 pounds of fuel using the Navy's probe-and-drogue method.
"What we accomplished today demonstrates a significant, groundbreaking step forward for the Navy," said Capt. Beau Duarte, the Navy's Unmanned Carrier Aviation program manager. "The ability to autonomously transfer and receive fuel in flight will increase the range and flexibility of future unmanned aircraft platforms, ultimately extending carrier power projection."
During the test, the X-47B exchanged refueling messages with a government-designed Refueling Interface System (RIS) aboard the tanker. The aircraft autonomously maneuvered its fixed refueling probe into the tanker's drogue, also known as the basket, the same way a Navy pilot would refuel a manned aircraft.
"In manned platforms, aerial refueling is a challenging maneuver because of the precision required by the pilot to engage the basket," Duarte said. "Adding an autonomous functionality creates another layer of complexity."
This testing 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, he said.
"This segment of the X-47B demonstration program allowed us to further mature AAR technologies and evaluate the government tanker RIS," said Barbara Weathers, X-47B deputy program manager. "We used similar command-control and navigation processes previously demonstrated during the X-47B landings aboard the aircraft carrier."
Over the last few years, the Navy accomplished several significant firsts with the X-47B that showcased the Navy's commitment to unmanned carrier aviation. With the completion of this program, the service continues to develop its future unmanned carrier-based platform, known as UCLASS.
X-47B Unmanned Aircraft Demonstrates The First Autonomous Aerial Refueling
(Source: Northrop Grumman Corporation; issued April 22, 2015)
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 Capt. 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.
Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company providing innovative systems, products and solutions in unmanned systems, cyber, C4ISR, and logistics and modernization to government and commercial customers worldwide.
Pratt & Whitney Powers X-47B Unmanned Aircraft Aerial Refueling
(Source: Pratt & Whitney; issued April 22, 2015)
This test event marks the first time an unmanned aircraft has demonstrated mid-air refueling using the Navy's probe-and-drogue refueling method, and completes the final objectives of the UCAS demonstration program. Pratt & Whitney is a division of United Technologies Corp.
The F100-PW-220U engine is based on the extremely successful engine powering the F-15 and F-16 aircraft around the world. The nozzle was uniquely designed for the X-47B application.
"The engine has performed nearly flawlessly," said Dan Grady, manager, Unmanned Systems, Pratt & Whitney. "Its performance and reliability has exceeded our expectations resulting in no unscheduled engine removals, 100 percent dispatch readiness and in-flight reliability."
During the test, the X-47B exchanged refueling messages with a government-designed Refueling Interface System (RIS) aboard the Omega K-707 tanker. While in-flight, the X-47B then autonomously maneuvered its fixed refueling probe into the tanker's drogue, transferred fuel and safely disconnected from the tanker, successfully completing the first contact flight.
"The ability to autonomously transfer and receive fuel in flight will increase the range and flexibility of future unmanned aircraft platforms, ultimately extending carrier power projection," said Capt. Beau Duarte, the Navy's Unmanned Carrier Aviation program manager. "What we accomplished today demonstrates a significant, groundbreaking step forward for the Navy."
Over the last few years, the X-47B conducted five carrier demonstrations, showcasing the Navy's commitment to unmanned carrier aviation through operations in and around the flight deck and maturing an AAR capability.
"Our team has worked closely with the Navy and Northrop Grumman to get ready for this important demonstration," said Grady. "Powering the successful fuel transfer marks a proud moment in history for Pratt & Whitney."
Pratt & Whitney is a world leader in the design, manufacture and service of aircraft engines and auxiliary power units. United Technologies Corp., based in Hartford, Connecticut, provides high technology products and services to the building and aerospace industries.