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The US Navy is preparing to conduct the first test flight of its X-47B Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAS) at Edwards Air Force Base, California, in November 2009.
The Northrop Grumman-built batwing, tailless and pilotless X-47B is designed for aerial reconnaissance, surveillance and targeting and can be remotely operated over aircraft carriers.
The unmanned combat air system is capable of flying at high subsonic speeds at an altitude of 40,000ft carrying an internal load of 4,500lb with a combat radius of 1,500 nautical miles.
Northrop Grumman UCAS programme team lead Tim Beard said that after spending six to eight months of aviation at Edwards’ base the aircraft will fly to Naval Air Station Patuxent Riverin Maryland for testing and flights through November 2011.
“The supplemental testing will be at Naval Air Engineering Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey, and Northrop is planning to put the aircraft aboard a carrier at the Norfolk, Virginia, naval base,” Beard added.
The aircraft is scheduled to start its sea trials in 2011.
While the Global Hawk boasts an operation range of 13,500 nautical mile range and 36-hour endurance during which it can comfortably "conduct surveillance over an area the size of Illinois" controlled either by line-of-site or satellite-connected operators, it is not expected to deliver 4,500 pounds of ordnance down Osama bin Laden's chimney without hitting the orphanage next door while controlled by a very human operator in an air-conditioned trailer thousands of miles away. It remains to be seen whether DARPA's substantial investment in the X-47B really does provide "revolutionary new air power" or an expensive flying turkey.