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.
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
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.
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.
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: