Fox News on July 10, 2013, reported that a Navy X-47B drone was launched off the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush off the coast of Virginia. Excerpts below.
For the first time ever, a fighter jet-sized drone piloted entirely by computer landed on a modern aircraft carrier.
The successful touch down paves the way for unmanned aircraft to operate alongside traditional airplanes, providing around-the-clock surveillance while also possessing strike capability. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus was clearly aware of the import of the historic moment.
‘Your grandchildren and mine will be reading about this historic event in their history books.’
– Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus
“It isn’t very often you get a glimpse of the future,” Mabus said in a statement. “The operational unmanned aircraft soon to be developed have the opportunity to radically change the way presence and combat power are delivered from our aircraft carriers.”
The X-47B experimental aircraft took off from Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland before approaching the USS George H.W. Bush, which is operating off the coast of Virginia. The drone landed by deploying a tailhook that caught a wire aboard the ship, bringing it to a quick stop, just like normal fighter jets do.
The maneuver is known as an arrested landing and has previously only been done by the drone on land at Patuxent River. Landing on a ship that is constantly moving while navigating through turbulent air behind the aircraft carrier is seen as a more difficult maneuver.
The X-47B will never be put into operational use, but it will help Navy officials develop future carrier-based drones. Those drones could begin operating by 2020, according to Winter. Four companies are expected to compete for a contract to design the future unmanned aircraft, which will be awarded in Fiscal Year 2014.
The two experimental aircraft that have been built for the first round of testing will be retired and placed in museums at Patuxent River and at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida.
The X-47B is far bigger than the Predator, has three times the range and can be programmed to carry out missions with no human intervention, the Navy said.
While the X-47B isn’t a stealth aircraft, it was designed with the low profile of one. That will help in the development of future stealth drones, which would be valuable as the military changes its focus from the Middle East to the Pacific, where a number of countries’ air defenses are a lot stronger than Afghanistan’s.