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Pics of the Day: X-47B From Above

by John Reed on January 25, 2012

Speaking of Northrop Grumman-made UAVs, check out these new photos of Northrop’s stealthy X-47B. The downward-looking pics show the plane — designed to test out how to operate a fighter-sized, stealthy UAV from an aircraft carrier — flying from an angle I’d never seen before. They make it look all the more badass, even if it is only a concept jet.

The jet caused a stir in a small town in Kansas last month when locals mistook a shrink-wrapped X-47B being trucked from California to Maryland for a UFO!


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{ 60 comments… read them below or add one }

Klem January 25, 2012 at 1:50 pm



STemplar January 25, 2012 at 2:01 pm

You don't read much about the program itself. I hope it is moving along smoothly. It will be such a boon for strike from CSGs.

The pics are fantastic as well.


Michael January 25, 2012 at 2:04 pm

I know in the article you mention this is a concept jet, but this is one I hope gets to production…or something a lot like it.


Cthel January 25, 2012 at 2:19 pm

are those flying-boom refuelling markings on the top?


@Dipsys_pal January 27, 2012 at 10:30 am

The hatch outline on the port wing looks like the cover for a refueling probe. The Navy does not use AF style refueling booms, it uses a probe and drogue system. The drogue, which looks like a giant badminton birdie, is streamed behind the tanker at the end of the refueling hose. The receiver aircraft maneuvers to insert the probe in a receptacle in the drogue.

The Navy system can't achieve the flow rates of a KC-135 or KC10, but it's more suitable for carrier operations, such as use of "buddy store" refueling pods for fuel transfer between similar aircraft or tanker versions of carrier A/C, such as the now retired KA-6D.


Lance January 25, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Strange its both ugly and cute at the same time.


phil January 25, 2012 at 3:09 pm

I wonder what kind of targeting radar that thing has and where they're hiding it.


Darrell January 25, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Iran will find out as soon as it lands in Tehran…


@Earlydawn January 25, 2012 at 8:20 pm

I doubt has one. It's probably a JDAM bird, dropping bombs on fixed targets with known coordinates. It could probably also drop anything laser-guided, so long as something else is painting.


Anonymous January 25, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Can radar bounce off 2 objects and return to the source to register an object? It seems with an inward facing inlet for the propulsion, radar can bounce off off one side, hit the other, then travel back to the source.

Whereas if it was a triangle facing outwards, it would bounce off to the side of the aircraft.


Sanem January 25, 2012 at 4:01 pm

NG pretty much invented this type of "round" stealth technology, first with the Tacit Blue and then the B-2, so I doubt stealth will be an issue. hell, It'll probably be the stealthiest aircraft in the world when it becomes operational


SMSgt Mac January 25, 2012 at 11:32 pm

(-3?) I don't know why anyone would down-rate your question. It is a good one. The answer is 'yes', but as 'melcyna' notes it is better to reflect 'inward' rather than 'outward' on the first bounce. While even the hard core CEM guys use terms like bounce and reflect, technically– and critical to understanding RCS management– the signal is re-radiated rather than bouncing or reflecting, and re-radiated energy is reduced via signal absorption/heat with every surface impact or channeled by design elsewhere (creeping and traveling waves). There's a 'better' and more involved technical explanation, but none that can fit in a DT comment space (at least by me). If you look at this design in profile (as melcyna also alludes to) you will see the first signal management step in this case is to place the inlet far enough back to limit the exposure angle of the inlet in the first place.


Michael January 25, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Very nice design!


ptitz January 25, 2012 at 3:55 pm

i wish i had one of these when i was a kid.


Sanem January 25, 2012 at 4:02 pm

finger licking good, thanks!


DC2 Jennings January 25, 2012 at 4:21 pm

I have one question: how can a Navy hose and drogue plane refuel this thing? looks like it uses Air Force hardware…..


A. Nonymous January 25, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Short answer: it can't. Probe-and-drogue requires the receiving aircraft to carefully fly its probe into the straight-and-level drogue receptacle, versus the boom operator flying his boom into the straight-and-level receiver aircraft's receptacle. I suspect that trying to fly a probe into a semi-straight-and-level undulating target like a drogue is substantially beyond the capabilities of an unmanned aircraft's autonomous flight controller. The real question is: for future carrier ops, will there be a small "buddy store" boom package for the F-18 E/F, will they have to adapt a C-2/E-2 to the mission, or will NAVAIR have to rely on USAF tankers?


Cthel January 25, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Maybe they'll be a buddy store boom pack for the production version of the X47B – I'd imagine that getting two drones to fly in close formation could be easier than doing it with manned aircraft, what with the ability to network information between them. The buddy pack wouldn't even necessarily need to be stealthy, since the drones carrying it wouldn't have to get within radar range of the enemy.


4FingersOfBourbon January 25, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Air Force refuels Navy all the time…equiped with both.


blight January 25, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Alternatively, it may require some autonomous refuelling mode that doesn't require satellite uplink, or may require a short range "refueller's uplink" allowing a tanker to temporarily take control of the UAV for refuelling.


Mark January 26, 2012 at 8:32 am

That wouldn't happen anytime soon. Imagine the hardware requirements for the refueler and training. You would have to have a second pilot on board for that. Don't think it's feasible at this moment.


blight January 26, 2012 at 9:51 am

True, but without that investment your UAVs remain very limited strategically.

Jay January 31, 2012 at 1:30 pm

What we are looking at is Autonomous communication between the UAV and Refueler. With the UAV flying autonomous already all that is to let the UAV access the information from the refueler so that it can mate with it.


SMSgt Mac January 25, 2012 at 11:36 pm

It is going to test both boom and the probe/drogue approaches. AV Leak had a story on it a while back.


dddd January 25, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Question: where is the radar on this thing? If it is in the nose, it can't be very powerful, right?


AlC January 25, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Size isn't everything. Depends how it's used.


Sanem January 26, 2012 at 4:46 am

it'll probably operate more like an F-117, maximalising stealth, no need for radar


Darren January 25, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Nice peice of kit. Too bad Australia cant afford them.


mike January 25, 2012 at 5:39 pm

America can't afford them either. Australia is just being more fiscally responsible.


Sanem January 26, 2012 at 4:52 am

I'd hardly consider Australia to be fiscally responsible, when they insist on buying 100 of the most expensive fighter jets in the world without knowing what the final price will be, and if they'll even work

these UCAVs will be half the price of an F-35 or less, but with wya better range and an endurance of 3 days, with superior stealth and no human lives at risk

so they'll actually be the most effective and most affordable option for Australia, as they'd be able to fly to China and back, completely undetected, using buddy or allied tankers on the way


7654321 January 25, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Its not more bang for the buck here; the cost of computer system to operate this thing is outrageous simply because it does not have a rudder or T-tail, and the argument that its invisible just doesn't wash because it has a heat signature that is unmistakable.
Whats really happening here is cost overruns, misappropriation of funds and basically lying to the public about things like performance, as well as falsifying documents.


DWW January 25, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Prove your claim.


SMSgt Mac January 25, 2012 at 11:39 pm

FFB: Is that you?


Nadnerbus January 26, 2012 at 12:56 am

I concur withe DWW. Prove your claim. I follow defense news lightly, and have heard nothing that you assert.


Sanem January 26, 2012 at 5:00 am

you're not an LMT employee by any chance are you?


Mark January 26, 2012 at 8:36 am

Did you know the processing power of todays typical smart phone is far greater then the computers that control the B-2 bomber, and look how successful the B-2 has been. The heat signature too? This bird has a very similar setup as the B-2 as well. Probably a curved intake/exhaust routing and heat tiles.


Auditor January 26, 2012 at 11:27 am

If you wish to share the proof behind your allegations with the government, you can email me personally.


Overseer January 26, 2012 at 11:33 am

Please let me know if you have something worth sharing that would be of interest to American citizens.


BigRick January 25, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Put a gun and some missiles on these and they can become wingmen controlled by the WSO in the F18 two seaters.


blight January 26, 2012 at 9:55 am

Or they will modify two-seaters to act exclusively as UAV forward controllers.


TH1 January 25, 2012 at 9:54 pm

simply awesome


Gene January 25, 2012 at 11:57 pm

Great view of Edwards AFB along with the UAV.


Ben January 26, 2012 at 3:58 am

Port side "wing root" there is a forward opening hatch, looks like its designed to open during operations as it has a radar defying serrated edge, is this for a gun ? never heard of anyone thinking or arming a UAV in this way ? thoughts ?


Sanem January 26, 2012 at 5:04 am

the Gripen has a radar guided gun, so it could work on a UAV
but as always no one wants to test it, then they'd have to explain what they need manned aircraft for


marcello January 26, 2012 at 9:15 am

every time i see something like this i can't help but wonder "holy cr*p! how can it even be flying?!?!"…


Pat January 26, 2012 at 10:25 am

That says a lot about Kansans if they thought it was a UFO. At least it didn't go through Oklahoma or Arkansas.


blight January 26, 2012 at 10:38 am

Or Roswell, New Mexico.


jamesb January 26, 2012 at 2:38 pm

I STILL want some with a driver in it…..
I'm old school….
Sometimes those things just up a quit on ya….

BY the way what happened to the Irainian Drone recovery story?

Was that real ……
Or Memorex?


scooterva January 26, 2012 at 3:06 pm

The true beauty of a UAV like this the lack of the pilot physically in the aircraft. What are the limits of current fighter platforms? The pilot, materials, fuel, and weapons.

1. A pilot can only stay on station so long
2. A pilot can only take x number of g-force
3. The materials the aircraft is made of can only take so much stress
4. It can only hold a fixed amount of weaponry

I'd love to see what type of maneuvering this thing could do considering there is no human limits to consider, just physics.

Obviously – there are drawbacks – such as command and control being lost – where having a pilot is a good thing.

I foresee a force structure where both manned and unmanned aircraft are part of the playbook, and both to be used when they have the advantage depending on the situation.


Sanem January 27, 2012 at 5:41 am

on maneuvering, make an unmanned version of the X-31 and the sky's the limit

human pilots will be part of future aircraft, but as a sort of payload capability needed for certain missions

btw a human pilot won't neccesairily make modern aircraft more reliable or even more effective
- they're all 99% computer controlled these days and linked, so they can be attacked by cyberwarfare, think Stuxnet virus for aircraft
- if manned aircraft were unable to communicate reliably, they'd be almost as helpless as a UAV, as they couldn't use AWACS, refueling, guided weapons… either


Jay January 31, 2012 at 1:54 pm

The manuevering on this aircraft is anything but impressive.

1. It's stealth. If the bank is at a high enough degree it will pop up on radar due to its RCS being flashed like a strobe light.

2. The wing design by itself is very unstable, that is why a computer controls the
B-2 more than the pilot does. Remember the B-2 crash? That was due to computer error not pilot error.

Due to these factors and them wanting it to stay in the air unlike the RQ-170 they would limit it to very stable parameters.


Johnny January 27, 2012 at 10:04 am

Wonder which alien ship design they got this from lol


Yellow Devil January 27, 2012 at 12:37 pm

So is this the new design we are going to "send" to the Iranians? Why wrap it up with a little bow while we are at it?


Bob January 27, 2012 at 10:44 pm



Miauw Miauw January 28, 2012 at 6:12 am

It's a You F Ooh


Davyd January 28, 2012 at 10:56 am

The radar is probably a unit very similar to the B-2s. Therefore an array can be hidden anywhere along the leading edge (perhaps where the wing-walk lines on the port wing are serrated) and be potent indeed. The boom receptacle on a Navy jet is confusing. Purposeful deception? Or just for this test article most likely.


rubens marchiori February 26, 2012 at 3:23 pm

muito bonito, mas que pra isso, se nós preocupamos bem menos com a nossa vida, devemos nos preocupar mais: com a qualidade da vida e do planeta


ajspades January 26, 2012 at 11:18 am

Among other things, the X-47B is designed to do autonomous refueling to and from other UAVs.


dennis January 27, 2012 at 9:26 am

Can that really be considered a solo flight when there is no one on board?


blight January 27, 2012 at 9:48 am

Good point. Solo meaning one controller, and not passed between multiple controllers?


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