I’m not sure what’s happened with the coverage of the military at the Pacific’s Navy Town paper, the U-T San Diego, but it has certainly slipped in recent months in accurately covering the military. Reporters Jeannette Steele and Gretel Kovach always are on top of their game, but the rest of the military reporters are certainly lacking, as well as the paper’s copy desk.
Take for example the latest (Dec. 10, 2012) on covering the Navy’s X-47B:
The futuristic X-47B unmanned combat aircraft that Northrop Grumman largely developed in San Diego has conducted taxi tests on an aircraft carrier for the first time, a major step toward preparing the drone for its inaugural flights from a flattop. The swept-wing drone was moved around the deck with remote-control equipment.
The drone was recently hoisted aboard the Harry S. Truman, where it will undergone a wide variety of tests, from being moved up and down in the flight elevator to a possible catapult flight shot.
Northrop developed the X-47B as a possible supplement for the aircraft the Navy currently uses on carriers. It hasn’t been decided whether the drone could replace any existing aircraft, but engineers have designed the X-47B to carry weapons.
First, this X-47B is not a combat aircraft, this is a demonstrator as Northrup says in its data sheets “about the size of a strike aircraft…”
Second, this is not a drone, this is a autonomous aircraft, which means it is designed to fly and carry out missions without a pilot involved onboard or remotely. In Navy terms, it’s called “man outside the loop flying.” And even if in its loosest terms the word “drone”, in military terms, means remotely piloted — not this baby. The data sheet describes the aircraft as “a computer-controlled unmanned aircraft system that takes off, flies a preprogrammed mission, then returns to base in response to mouse clicks from its mission operator. The mission operator monitors the X-47B air vehicle’s operation, but does not actively “fly” it via remote control as is the case for other unmanned systems currently in operation.”
Third, the copy editor missed the tense, the word is “… undergo … .” And in the cutline (caption) the word is “taxis”, not “taxiis.”
Fourth, yes, it is swept-wing, but aircraft’s difference is its tailless cranked wing configuration, in easy terms — bat-winged.
Fifth, since the X-47B is a demonstrator and the contract only called for two to be built, the answer is obvious it will not replace any existing aircraft. However, the Navy is expected to seek proposals for an operational version by early 2013.
Update March 31, 2013:
As I indicated above, the Navy announced its intention to fund four companies to design new unmanned air vehicles as part of its unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike (UCLASS) program.
Boeing, General Atomics, Aeronautical Systems, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman “have credible, existing, comprehensive UCLASS design solutions, and associated production capabilities and facilities” to design UAVs through the preliminary design review phase, the navy says.
The announcement was made 26 March, and is the first step towards securing funding for a carrier-based strike and surveillance aircraft. A Request for Proposals is likely to go out “in the summer timeframe,” Navy officials said.
The first UCLASS aircraft are planned for production beginning in fiscal year 2016 with deployment with the fleet in 2020.
All the companies have worked on a UCLASS-capable aircraft for more than decade.