Navy X-47B stealth drone ready for carrier landing
The U.S. Navy's latest stealth drone has completed a series of rigorous summer flight tests - taking it one step closer to its first automated carrier landing.Reaching speeds of 180 knots, two experimental X-47B drones have completed their summer test schedule to evaluate software and other modifications before the first test aircraft carrier landing in 2013.
While the X-47B is expected to usher in a new era of unmanned aircraft, critics have raised concerns over the lack of human control in increasingly deadly military hardware.The fighter-sized aircraft features an innovative, GPS-based navigation and landing system that will enable it to land autonomously, with precision, on the moving deck of a Navy aircraft carrier.
In addition to the planned carrier launches and landings in 2013, the program will also demonstrate the ability of the X-47B to conduct autonomous aerial refuelling operations in 2014.The X-47B is a computer-controlled UAS that takes off, flies a preprogrammed mission, then returns to base in response to mouse clicks from its mission operator.
The Navy has been slow to adapt to drone warfare, but they have pushed the envelop with this aircraft. Its engines and landing gear come from existing designs which shortened the roll out time and lower the cost.The operator actively monitors the aircraft and responds to air traffic control instructions, but does not 'fly' it via a remote stick-and-throttle control the way some unmanned systems are currently operated.