The US navy made aviation history on Wednesday by successfully landing a highly autonomous drone on an aircraft carrier at sea.
The batwing-shaped X-47B executed one of the hardest maneuvers in aviation, catching the arrested-landing gear on the deck of the USS George HW Bush off the mid-Atlantic coast, the navy announced Wednesday. Never before has a robot performed a feat executable only by the navy’s top pilots.
“Your grandchildren and great-grandchildren and mine will be reading about this historic event in their history books,” said Rear Admiral Mat Winter, the head of the navy’s drone programs.
The drone, followed by manned chase aircraft, flew from a Maryland airstrip on a pre-programmed flight path closely overseen by navy officials on land and on the deck of the Bush. It carried the call-sign Salty Dog 502. Once cleared by the landing signal officer, who had the distinction of being the first person to approve a robot for landing at sea, Salty Dog 502 put its hook down, caught the wire, and wrote a new chapter in naval history.
While 70 nations have drones of some sort, widely varying in sophistication and military applicability, only the US can boast of a flying robot the size of an F/A-18 Super Hornet and powered by a jet engine able to take off and land on the deck of a ship. The X-47B first took off from an aircraft carrier, the Bush, in May, although it landed on terra firma.