Alumnus launches first unmanned flight

Courtesy Photo: Northrop Grumman On Feb 4, 2011, Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy helped launch the next century of naval aviation with the successful first flight of the X-47B Unmanned Combat Aircraft. Conducted at Edwards AFB, Calif., the 29-min flight is a critical first step toward demonstrating that a tailless, fighter-sized unmanned aircraft can safely operate from the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier. 

Posted: Saturday, February 19, 2011 9:18 pm | Updated: 6:49 pm, Sun Feb 20, 2011.

Alumnus launches first unmanned flight By Micaela Cashman,

Joseph Chody, 1979 ISU alumnus in aerospace engineering, recently launched the first unmanned aircraft, the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration. The plane, engineered and built at Northrop Grumman, completed its historic first flight at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

“It was a very ‘clean’ flight, meaning there were no surprises — very boring, which is exactly the way you want first flights, or any flight for that matter,” Chody said.

Chody serves as the Navy Unmanned Combat Air System Director of System Engineering, Integration and Test.

“The [X-47B] contract was awarded by the Navy [to Northrop Grumman] in August of 2007,” he said. I joined the program … in June 2008.”

The six-year contract requires Northrop Grumman to develop two X-47B fighter-sized aircraft. The program is now preparing for carrier trials in 2013.

“Designing a tailless, fighter-sized unmanned aircraft from a clean sheet is no small feat,” said Janis Pamiljans, vice president and program manager. “Commitment, collaboration and uncompromising technical excellence among the Navy, Northrop Grumman and the UCAS-D team industry partners made today’s flight a reality.”

Chody had the opportunity to watch the historic flight from the runway. The X-47B took off under reportedly hazy skies and climbed to an altitude of 5,000 feet, flying several “racetrack-type patterns.” The flight took 29 minutes and provided test data to verify that all of the software was working correctly.

Chody was unable to state exactly what the process of developing the plane was; additionally, he could not state any specifics on the X-47B due to security measures Northrop Grumman must take when working with the Navy.

For more information on Northrop Grumman and the X-47B, visit