The Northrop Grumman X-47B is a demonstration unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) designed for aircraft carrier-based operations. Developed by the American defense technology company Northrop Grumman, the X-47 project began as part of DARPA’s J-UCAS program, and subsequently became part of the United States Navy’s Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) program. The X-47B is a tailless jet-powered blended-wing-body aircraft capable of semi-autonomous operation and aerial refueling.
The X-47B first flew in 2011, and as of 2015, its two active demonstrators have undergone extensive flight and operational integration testing, having successfully performed a series of land- and carrier-based demonstrations. In August 2014, the US Navy announced that it had integrated the X-47B into carrier operations alongside manned aircraft, and by May 2015 the aircraft’s primary test program was declared complete. Northrop Grumman intends to develop the X-47B into an operational aircraft, the MQ-25 Stingray, which will enter service in the 2020s. The X-47B demonstrators themselves were intended to become museum exhibits after the completion of their flight testing, but the Navy later decided to maintain them in flying condition pending further development.
The US Navy did not commit to practical UCAS efforts until 2000, when the service awarded contracts of US$2 million each to Boeing and Northrop Grumman for a 15-month concept-exploration program.