Landing on a flight deck just might be the most difficult thing a naval pilot can do. But if the United States Navy has its way, it might be an operation no pilot ever has to complete again.
After five-years in the making, the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator completed its first land-based catapult launch, “marking the start for a new era of naval aviation,” the navy announced on Thursday.
With a wingspan of 62-feet (18.9m), the subsonic drone will be the first tailless aircraft ever to land on a carrier.
"The X-47B shore-based catapult launch we witnessed here today will leave a mark in history," the navy quotes Vice Adm. David Dunaway, NAVAIR commander, as saying.
"We are working toward the future integration of unmanned aircraft on the carrier deck, something we didn't envision 60 years ago when the steam catapult was first built here," he continued.
Engineers had originally planned 50 test flights from the X-47B, but after performing beyond expectations, they stopped after 16 trials.
Following the dozen-plus successful trials, the next step came on Monday, when the drone was hoisted on to the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman.
After a series of upcoming sea trials planned for 2013, the X-47B is set to become the world’s first unmanned aircraft piloted by artificial intelligence rather than a remote human operator.
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