The X-47B, unmanned carrier drone, took its first recorded flight in September (video below) and the Navy just announced it's adding refueling capabilities to the aircraft by 2014.
David Ax, at Wired, reports the move will allow the X-47B to remain in flight well beyond 3,000 nautical miles — 10 times the ability of a traditional manned fighter.
This will also put U.S. aircraft carriers outside the reach of, say, China's 'carrier-killing' ballistic missiles and submarines.
Getting rid of the fighter pilot is a huge boost to efficiency and the Navy will begin carrier trials on the USS George Washington in 2013.
The X-47B's manufacturer, Northrop Grumman also received contracts to modify long-range Global Hawks to serve as refueling tankers. When those aircraft come online, the entire process will be conducted with no pilot at all
The X-47, which the Navy wants by 2018, has been in development for nearly a decade by Northrop Grumman, builder of the Air Force’s long-range Global Hawk spy drone. After a series of test flights from land bases — including its first wheels-up cruise, depicted above — in 2013 the X-47B will head out to the aircraft carrier USS George Washington for additional trials, launching and landing from the carrier’s crowded, 1,100-foot flight deck.
The aerial refueling tests will follow the carrier trials. The X-47B will be fitted with both Navy-style refueling gear — a probe the refueling plane uses to “plug” into a basket suspended from the tanker — and the receptacle refueling equipment favored by the Air Force, which requires that the tanker plug its own probe into the receiving plane. Dual systems will allow the X-47B to sip gas from the Navy’s carrier-based F/A-18 tankers or the Air Force’s much larger KC-135s and KC-10s.
In late 2007, according to company insiders, U.S. military officials ordered Boeing to destroy an earlier version of the Phantom Ray, the X-45C. Exactly why the feds wanted the robotic aircraft dismantled has never been fully explained.
Boeing had just lost out to rival aerospace firm Northrop Grumman in a contest to develop a so-called “Unmanned Combat Air System” for the Navy, capable of taking off from, and landing on, aircraft carriers. That contest, known by its acronym N-UCAS — “N” for “Navy” — was actually the third time in five years
Boeing had gone toe-to-toe with Northrop over a government contract to build killer drones, and the second time it had lost.
UAVs perform a wide variety of functions. The majority of these functions are some form of remote sensing; this is central to the reconnaissance role most UAVs fulfill. Less common UAV functions include interaction and transport.
UAV remote sensing functions include electromagnetic spectrum sensors, gamma ray sensors, biological sensors, and chemical sensors. A UAV's electromagnetic sensors typically include visual spectrum, infrared, or near infrared cameras as well as radar systems. Other electromagnetic wave detectors such as microwave and ultraviolet spectrum sensors may also be used, but are uncommon.
Biological sensors are sensors capable of detecting the airborne presence of various microorganisms and other biological factors. Chemical sensors use laser spectroscopy to analyze the concentrations of each element in the air.
Commercial aerial surveillanceAerial surveillance of large areas is made possible with low cost UAV systems. Surveillance applications include: livestock monitoring, wildfire mapping, pipeline security, home security, road patrol and anti-piracy. The trend for use of UAV technology in commercial aerial surveillance is expanding rapidly.
Oil, gas and mineral exploration and production
Video shows accuracy in accomplishing GIS supported target with expert and well trained professionals.
UAVs can transport goods using various means based on the configuration of the UAV itself. Most payloads are stored in an internal payload bay somewhere in the airframe. For many helicopter configurations, external payloads can be tethered to the bottom of the airframe. With fixed wing UAVs, payloads can also be attached to the airframe, but aerodynamics of the aircraft with the payload must be assessed. For such situations, payloads are often enclosed in aerodynamic pods for transport.
Beyond the standard barometric pressure and temperature data typically culled from manned hurricane hunters, the Aerosonde system provides measurements far closer to the water’s surface than previously captured.
Further applications for unmanned aircraft can be explored once solutions have been developed for their accommodation within national airspace, an issue currently under discussion by the Federal Aviation Administration. UAVSI, the UK manufacturer also produce a variant of their Vigilant light UAS (20 kg)
designed specifically for scientific research in severe climates such as the Antarctic.