“In April 2015, the X-47B once again made aviation history by successfully conducting the first-ever Autonomous Aerial Refueling (AAR) of an unmanned aircraft. AAR unlocks the full potential of what unmanned surveillance, strike, and reconnaissance systems can do in support of the Navy. These historic demonstrations solidify the concept of future unmanned aircraft and prove that the X-47B can perform standard missions — like aerial refueling — and operate seamlessly with manned aircraft as part of the Carrier Air Wing.”
Perhaps more importantly, the aircraft proved that a semi-autonomous flying wing aircraft could successfully operate from an aircraft carrier and refuel from a tanker.
In order to build and fly the X-47Bs, the U.S. Army had to implement some significant technological advancements.
In the end, the first X-47B flew in 2011, and by 2015 its two active demonstrators had completed extensive flight and operational integration testing, making them ready for use on the battlefield. It was in August of 2014 that the U.S. Navy announced that it had integrated the X-47B into carrier operations.
Northrop Grumman further stated that “the X-47B UCAS is designed to help the Navy explore the future of unmanned carrier aviation. The successful flight test program is setting the stage for the development of a more permanent, carrier-based fleet of unmanned aircraft.”
According to The War Zone, the UCAS program “proved to be so successful that many were stunned when the demonstrators weren’t given another contract for more testing and risk reduction work even expanding into the tactical realms.” So why did the aircraft end up as a museum relic?