WASHINGTON: The unmanned aircraft most likely to become the first to takeoff and land on aircraft carriers is moving to the next phase of testing, moving from Edwards Air Force Base to the Navy’s main operational test site at Patuxent River, Md.

The X-47B, also known as the Navy’s UCAS-D, soared higher than 15,000 feet and flew at a speed of 180 knots during more than 23 flights and 50 tests. The aircraft moved to Maryland yesterday. It also “demonstrated multiple maneuvers relevant to carrier operations, including extending and retracting a tail hook, completing an autonomous ‘touch-and-go’ landing – an aviation first – and performing landings at a high sink rate and in a heavy weight configuration,” according to a Northrop Grumman press release.

The tests also “proved that the X-47B will perform properly at all speeds, weights and altitudes” required by the Navy, the release says.

The flights included tests of several aircraft maneuvers required in the carrier environment, helping to reduce risks associated with operating a tailless, unmanned aircraft from a Navy aircraft carrier.

Carrier suitability testing begins later this summer. That will include catapult launches, arrested landings and wireless remote deck handling of the aircraft. The first actual carrier landings and takeoffs will occur in 2013. The Navy and Northrop Grumman plan to demonstrate aerial refueling in 2014.

The first X-47B is undergoing electromagnetic interference testing in Maryland to show it can function in the very electrically noisy environment of an aircraft carrier.