The Northrop Grumman X-47B is a demonstration unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) designed for aircraft carrier-based operations. In May 2012, AV-1 began high-intensity electromagnetic interference testing at Patuxent River, to test compatibility with planned electronic warfare systems. In June 2012, AV-2 arrived at Patuxent River to begin a series of tests, including arrested landings and catapult launches, to validate its ability to conduct precision approaches to an aircraft carrier. Its first land-based catapult launch was conducted successfully on 29 November 2012.
The X-47B is a tailless jet-powered blended-wing-body aircraft capable of semi-autonomous operation and aerial refueling. Developed by the American defense technology company Northrop Grumman, the X-47 project began as part of DARPA’s J-UCAS program, and subsequently became part of the United States Navy’s Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) program. The X-47B first flew in 2011, and as of 2015 having successfully performed a series of land- and carrier-based demonstrations. In August 2014, the US Navy announced that it had integrated the X-47B into carrier operations alongside manned aircraft, and by May 2015 the primary test program was declared complete.
In February 2015, the Navy stated that the competition for private tenders for constructing the UCLASS fleet would begin in 2016, with the aircraft expected to enter service in the early 2020s. Reportedly, despite the X-47B’s success in test flights, officials were concerned that it would be too costly and insufficiently stealthy for the needs of the UCLASS project. In June 2015, United States Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus stated that the X-47B program should continue but that Northrop-Grumman should not gain an unfair advantage in the competition for the UCLASS contract.
In July 2015, the Navy stated that the X-47Bs would remain in flying condition rather than being converted to museum exhibits, allowing for a variety of follow-on evaluations. In January 2017, the first X-47B departed NAS Patuxent River, Md. for Northrop Grumman’s manufacturing plant in Palmdale, Calif. On 25 October 2017, the company announced its withdrawal from the MQ-25 competition, saying it would be unable to operate under the terms of the service’s request for proposals. One X-47B performed a required upkeep static engine run in spring 2019. The other remained stored in a hangar. The older X-47A Pegasus Air Vehicle was also kept in a covered open air hangar at Palmdale.