Since the X-47B is tailless, it uses control surfaces, called spoilers, to provide the same control a vertical tail would by using high-speed computers to create a similar moment from the drag created when the surface is deflected. The flight control software developed by Northrop Grumman detects movement in the directional axis to maintain stable flight patterns and guide the UCAS in the right directional path. It also includes an integrated advanced GPS precision navigation system used to provide the precise position into the flight program and operates using occasional mouse clicks from the mission operator to launch and land the vehicle. The X-47B is designed similarly to the B-2 bomber, which is also a tailless Northrop Grumman construction. “You are essentially stabilizing a Frisbee,” says Saunders.

X-47B testing and beyond

Northrop Grumman and NAVAIR recently received the 2011 James S. McDonnell Award for Outstanding Team Achievement in the Field of Flight Test Engineering by the Society of Flight Test Engineers (SCTE), recognizing the design innovation and precision navigation that enable the X-47B to be launched and recovered by a Navy aircraft carrier. The use of the composite skins in the design is pushing the Navy to see the benefits of composite integration into other designs. The X-47B had its first successful flight in February 2011 at Edwards Air Force Base and is expected to demonstrate operations onboard a Navy aircraft carrier by 2013 with autonomous aerial refueling demonstrations planned for 2014.

Mission: Protecting Navy Sonar Equipment

In the world of U.S. Navy shipbuilding, it is a painstaking journey to implement new composite technology in place of a one hundred-year-old shipbuilding process using steel as the primary material. However, composites are finding more applications for providing corrosion-resistant protection for both structural and non-structural parts. Some of the integrated parts including topside electrical and phone boxes, gratings, stanchions, louvers, and screens, manufactured using pultrusion or injection molding. However, no other structural parts are making as much progress in the Navy as the ones providing composite acoustic sonar protection such as submarine sonar domes, the composite mast for the CVN 77 and the deckhouse for DDG-1000 Zumwalt destroyer.

The Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA)–a U.S. Navy organization dedicated to the engineering, building, purchasing and maintaining of ships, submarines and combat systems–is the main office for ensuring that the communication and radar equipment are well protected from the environment and other threats. They have recently made decisions to equip some of the largest current and future ships in the fleet with composite solutions.