The Navy’s X-47B Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle demonstrator has added yet another huge feat to its long list of incredible accomplishments, which includes operating from an aircraft carrier. This time, it has demonstrated the first step in autonomous aerial refueling, plugging into a aerial refueling basket behind an Omega Air KC-707.
Originally, the X-47B was not going to be funded for a aerial refueling demonstration, but money was apparently applied to this highly relevant test set which will last through the weekend, depending on weather. The goal is to not just have the X-47B make prolonged contact with the tanker, but actually complete a full aerial refueling as well.
This aerial refueling demonstration is also slated to be the final test of the historic X-47B, although, considering that the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program keeps getting pushed back, it could be wise to keep the X-47B in service for future tests. As of now, both X-47Bs will be donated to museums even though only 20% of their flight hours have been used up.
In the past, Calspan’s Learjet unmanned aircraft surrogate testbed was used for testing the same systems that were used on the X-47B for this test, which include both differential GPS and and optical and laser ranging systems. You can learn all about this technology and others, and how it could massively impact the future of air combat here:
The first aerial refueling of an unmanned aircraft (at least the first publicly known one) paves the way for future unmanned systems to leverage what has become one of air power’s largest force multipliers.
U.S. Navy Photographs by Liz Wolter
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com