The X-47B Drone Has Landed on a Carrier

By:

 

X-47B Over CV

X-47B Over CV (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Adam Clark Estes

 

 

 

It’s not often that we get to witness aviation history being made, but when we do, it’s often awesome. Such is the case with the U.S. Navy’s X-47B which just became the first unmanned aircraft to land on an aircraft carrier.

 

Landing a

drone on an aircraft carrier was not a cheap or easy task. The so-called

“Salty Dog 502” has been in training to accomplish such a feat for

years now, and the program has cost the government over $1.4 billion. It

won’t spend anymore, because the Navy is retiring its two X-47B’s and sending them to Navy museums

in Florida and Maryland. The aircraft deserve nothing less than being

enshrined. “Your grandchildren and great grandchildren, and mine, will

be reading about this historic event in their history books,” Rear

Admiral Mat Winter told the press ahead of the landing. “This is not

trivial.”

 

How untrivial is it? Some of the top brass say that Wednesday’s accomplishment is second only to the introduction of naval aircraft

way back in 1911. And the thought of robot planes zipping on and off of

floating runways is probably just as scary to the people of 2013 as the

idea of planes on boats was to the people of 1911.

 

The X-47B Drone Has Landed on a Carrier, And War May Never Be the SameExpand

 

Nevertheless, Wednesday’s landing was just one of many milestones

the X-47B has hit in recent years. The Northrop Grumman drone is a big

drone with a 62-foot wingspan, though it can fold its wings into a more

compact shape. The two aircraft have more or less been in nonstop

testing since their first flights

in 2011 and made its first “catapult takeoff” from land six months ago.

The operation moved to the aircraft carrier earlier this year, and in

May, the X-47B made its first catapult takeoff from the deck and made nine touch-and-go landings.

 

 

The X-47B

was never armed, but the two drones will change warfare as we know it.

Just imagine: now the Navy can launch unmanned aerial vehicles that can

fly for dozens of hours without refueling from anywhere in the world.

Although the test planes will gather dust in a museum, the technology

that made the carrier takeoffs and landings possible will be applied to

the rest of the drone fleet. The Navy will start accepting proposals for

a new carrier-ready drone next month and hope the aircraft will be in

service in three to six years.

 

The first landing:

 

 

The first launch:

 

 

 

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