X-47B unmanned aircraft achieves first flight

First flight of the X-47B unmanned combat aircraft.
First flight of the X-47B unmanned combat aircraft.

The X-47B is a tail-less, strike fighter-sized unmanned system currently under development by Northrop Grumman as part of the US Navy’s Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) programme.

The complex centre fuselage section of the X-47B has an aluminium and titanium construction. The aircraft’s wings contain an aluminium substructure covered with carbon fibre epoxy composite skins measuring approximately 16 ft by 4 ft. The wings can fold, allowing the air vehicle to achieve a smaller footprint for aircraft carrier stowage.

GKN Aerospace also manufactures most of the fuselage composite skins and the aircraft’s bay covers and actuated doors.

Wing and fuselage design was completed by the GKN Aerospace Engineering Development Center in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, and manufacture took place at the company’s plant in St. Louis, Missouri. In total, over 650 separate metallic and composite elements per aircraft were manufactured and/or assembled by GKN Aerospace.

"Our work on this programme truly exploits the unmatched skills of our company across complex, high performance metallic and composite manufacture," notes Kevin Cummings, President and CEO, GKN Aerospace - Aerostructures North America.

"This is an extremely proud day for both the Northrop Grumman and GKN Aerospace teams that have shown total commitment to supporting the development of what is the first unmanned aircraft designed to withstand the forces involved in launch and recovery of the air vehicle from the deck of an aircraft carrier."