header image 2

Navy catapults unmanned aircraft for first time

November 30th, 2012 · 6 Comments · General

Navy catapults unmanned aircraft for first time | Fox News.

Cool beans!  For a Naval aircraft, this is obviously a titanic milestone in the development of this capability.  The launch is, of course, the easiest thing in the whole profile – you could send a giant sequoia tree flying via catapult if you wanted to.  Cars, dead loads, no loads, whatever.  You hit that “launch” button and whatever is hooked up to that catapult will be accelerated from a stand-still to 150 knots in about two and a half seconds. 

The key, of course, will be the recovery.  THAT will really be the pudding in the…umm…the rubber on the….errrr…the cat’s meow!

UCAS Cat Launch_16953_660.jpg


Northrop Grumman, U.S. Navy Conduct First Catapult Launch of X-47B Unmanned Aircraft

And here, hopefully, is the actual launch:


PATUXENT RIVER, Md., Nov. 29, 2012 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) and the U.S. Navy have conducted the Navy’s first catapult launch of an unmanned system using the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator.

Photos accompanying this release are available at


The test was conducted today at a shore-based catapult facility at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. It marks the first of several shore-based catapult-to-flight tests that will be performed before the Navy’s UCAS Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) program catapult launches the X-47B from a ship.
Northrop Grumman is the Navy’s prime contractor for the UCAS-D program.

“Today’s successful launch is another critical milestone in the carrier-suitability testing phase of the UCAS-D program,” said Mike Mackey, Northrop Grumman’s UCAS-D program director. “It also provides another confidence-building step toward our rendezvous with history next year.”

Following the catapult launch, the X-47B conducted a test flight over Chesapeake Bay near Patuxent River. The flight included several maneuvers designed to simulate tasks that the aircraft will have to perform when it lands on a ship, including flying in a typical ship holding pattern, and executing a carrier approach flight profile. The flight also allowed the test team to gather precision navigation data associated with each of those maneuvers.

According to Daryl Martis, Northrop Grumman’s UCAS-D flight test director, the catapult event was significant for another reason: “Today’s launch provided our team with another opportunity to demonstrate the precision operation of the Northrop Grumman-developed Control Display Unit [CDU], one of the key enablers of future flight deck operations for the X-47B,” he said.

The CDU is a wireless, arm-mounted controller that will allow a flight deck operator to control and maneuver the X-47B on the flight deck, including moving it into the catapult, disengaging it from the carrier’s arresting wires and moving it quickly out of the landing area.

Over the next few weeks, the UCAS-D program expects to conduct several shore-based catapults at Patuxent River. On Nov. 26, an X-47B was hoisted aboard the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) at Naval Air Station, Norfolk, Va. to begin a series of deck handling trials. The trials, expected to run through mid December, will be used to evaluate the performance of the CDU in an actual carrier environment.

In 2013, the program plans to demonstrate the ability of an X-47B to operate from a Navy aircraft carrier, including launch, recovery and air traffic control operations. The program will also mature technologies required for potential future Navy unmanned air system programs. For the latest X-47B news and information, please visit

Northrop Grumman’s UCAS-D industry team includes Pratt & Whitney, Lockheed Martin, GKN Aerospace, Eaton, General Electric, UTC Aerospace Systems, Dell, Honeywell, Moog, Wind River, Parker Aerospace and Rockwell Collins.

Nov. 29, 2012: In preparation for the first catapult launch of the U.S. Navy’s X-47B unmanned aircraft, a flight deck director – aka “yellow shirt” – and a deck operator using Northrop Grumman’s wireless, handheld Control Display Unit guide the aircraft into position on a shore-based catapult at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. (Northrop Grumman Corp) Read more:


6 Comments so far ↓

  • jd

    Nice video of the cat shot. Really liked the little success ‘dance’! :))

  • spencer

    I remember reading that they successful completed an automated landing with a modified FA-18 a few months back in preparation of this moment. I cant say Id bee too happy standing around the back of the boat doing my job, as said robo-bird was on final, and wondering if each line of code it was processing was correct…

  • spencer

    However, if this does prove to be some fabulous nGrumman wunderkind I could also see it mission creeping its way into the regular manned bugs. No more trick or treat (or worse) might save the tax payer some bucks. Getting those stick and rudder guys to let go on final though might take some convincing….

  • Pinch


    As a former arresting gear officer who had to stand back on teh aft end of the ship during recovery, yeah…I’ve echoed those same thought. I’d hate to be back there, fat dumb and happy with one of those UCAVs on short-final or at the ramp when “hiccup*…a burp in the data stream occurs and the thing makes a nose dive or a wing-over or a lomcevak or a immelman or a double toe’d outside loop with a triple axle with me as ground zero. Not a pretty sight!

  • Pinch

    JD, wasn’t that cool? That was the first thing I saw. Love it when tech guys/engineers get all toodled up like that!

  • Doug

    I spent a few years at the Test Cat at Pax before I went to the Ike. Learned alot about Cats and Gear. Used to love Breaking them fancy new Planes and makin the engineers scratch their heads. The dancer looked like the Bow Safety guy. Wonder if its still a sailor or If civilians do it now.

Leave a Comment