An unmanned aircraft engineered in San Diego by Northrop Grumman made a historic first carrier landing July 10 off the coast of Virginia.
Though unmanned helicopters are becoming common at sea, this was the first fixed-wing aircraft to make a landing on the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier.
The aircraft was the X-47B, a jet-powered, tailless, stealth aircraft the size of a fighter plane. It can fly even without a pilot operating it by remote-control.
The X-47B took off from Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland and landed on the deck of the USS George H.W. Bush 35 minutes later, snagging its tailhook on the third of the carrier’s four arresting cables, the U.S. Navy reported.
Shortly after the landing, the aircraft was launched off the ship using the carrier’s catapult. The aircraft then executed a second arrested landing, the Navy said.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus was aboard the carrier. “It isn’t very often you get a glimpse of the future,” Mabus said in a statement.
“Across the entire spectrum of military operations, an integrated force of manned and unmanned platforms is the future,” the secretary said.
The Navy is already planning to build a fleet of unmanned carrier aircraft. Northrop Grumman and Poway-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. are both expected to compete for the contract.
San Diego is Northrop Grumman’s unmanned systems center of excellence.
The Navy first launched the X-47B from an aircraft carrier deck in May.
— SDBJ Staff Report