Aerospace & Defense


Northrop Grumman Selects VxWorks for the UCAS-Demonstrator Program

X-47B unmanned combat air system demonstrates successful integration with aircraft carrier

Video:Northrop Grumman chooses VxWorks for the X-47B

“Wind River provides a key part of our software architecture. VxWorks enables all of our mission computers and all of our systems associated with our mission computers to operate effectively.”

—Tighe Paremter, Director, Northrop Grumman Aerospace


The Navy wanted to know if an unmanned combat air system (UCAS) could operate safely and autonomously from aircraft carriers and refuel in-flight. Northrop Grumman responded with the X-47B, a 38-foot-long tailless unmanned aircraft designed to stealth specs. The computer-controlled X-47B was designed to be a flying robot, constantly exchanging real-time data with the aircraft carrier. To create the Demonstrator model, Northrop Grumman assembled a team that included GKN Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney, Eaton, GE, Hamilton Sundstrand, Dell, Honeywell, Goodrich, Moog, Parker Aerospace, Rockwell Collins, and Wind River®.


Northrop Grumman chose VxWorks® as the software platform for the UCAS-Demonstrator program. GE Aviation chose VxWorks as the foundation for its Common Core System, the backbone of UCAS-D computers, networks, and interfacing electronics. Not only did VxWorks provide the primary computing environment but Northrop Grumman developers leveraged VxWorks tools to rapidly create, deploy, and maintain critical applications for the X-47B. Building on VxWorks enabled Northrop Grumman to rapidly create, deploy, and maintain the safety-critical control system.


Navy fighter pilots depend on a complex system of real-time visual and audio cues to safely take off from and land on a pitching aircraft carrier flight deck. The Northrop Grumman team successfully translated that system of human perception and judgment into a digital language that a robot can effectively employ. Proven commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) certification products from Wind River helped Northrop Grumman rapidly and cost-effectively develop highly complex systems that meet rigorous military and commercial safety standards.

In 2013, in recognition of their “great achievement in aeronautics and astronautics,” the U.S. Navy, Northrop Grumman, and the X-47B industry team, including Wind River, were awarded the prestigious Robert J. Collier Trophy.