The US Navy-Northrop Grumman UCAS-D X-47B aircraft successfully completed its maiden flight on Friday with GKN Aerospace’s developed and manufactured wings and fuselage structure.GKN Aerospace’s work was undertaken as part of a multi-year contract to design and manufacture the X-47B centre fuselage and wing components.
The complex centre fuselage section of the X-47B has an aluminum and titanium construction while the aircraft’s wings contain an aluminum substructure covered with carbon epoxy skins measuring approximately 16 feet by 4 feet. Each wing supports a spoiler flight control surface and hosts fully integrated electrical and hydraulic routings. The wing design includes a fold capability allowing the air vehicle to achieve a smaller footprint for aircraft carrier stowage. GKN Aerospace also manufactures most of the fuselage composite skins and this tailless aircraft’s bay covers and actuated doors.
Wing and fuselage design was completed by the GKN Aerospace Engineering Development Center in Nashville, Tennessee, 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.
Kevin Cummings, President and CEO, GKN Aerospace - Aerostructures North America commented: “Our work on this program truly exploits the unmatched skills of our company across complex, high performance metallic and composite manufacture. 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. We can now see their innovative engineering and manufacturing truly take flight on this transformational Navy program”.
The X-47B is a tailless, strike fighter-sized unmanned system currently under development by Northrop Grumman as part of the U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) program. Under a contract awarded in 2007, the company has designed, developed and is currently producing two X-47B aircraft. In the 2013 timeframe, these aircraft will be used to demonstrate the first carrier-based launches and recoveries by an autonomous, low-observable relevant unmanned aircraft. The UCAS-D program will also be used to mature relevant carrier landing and integration technologies, and to demonstrate autonomous aerial refueling by the X-47B aircraft.