The experimental X-47B drone has successfully landed on a US Navy aircraft carrier for the first time since its May launch. The successful landing means the US can launch drones overseas without needing to use bases in other countries.
The unmanned X-47B aircraft, which is a prototype drone the size of a fighter jet developed by the American defense technology company Northrop Grumman, took off from a naval air station in Maryland on Wednesday. The drone then landed on the USS George H.W. Bush off the coast of Virginia.
The drone successfully performed a maneuver known as “arrested landing,” which involved catching a wire on board the ship with a deployed tail hook, bringing the aircraft to a quick stop.
The task is considered to be one of the most challenging for a human pilot, due to constant movement of the ship and the turbulent air around it. The procedure was performed exclusively by the drone’s built-in computer program.
If the drone ever fails to catch the wire, it is said to be able to perform a touch-and-go stunt to try to land again. The X-47B made nine such maneuvers in May, when it was successfully catapulted from an aircraft carrier for the first time.
The US navy saluted the drone’s test, with Rear Admiral Mat Winter calling it “historic event” worth mentioning in “history books.” However, the drone’s capabilities have raised concerns over possible expansion of Washington’s controversial overseas drone program.
The successful launch of the drone prototype would prompt the Navy to go ahead with its plans to order a fleet of carrier-based drones. According to Winter – the US Navy’s program executive officer for unmanned aviation and strike weapons – such drones could begin operating by 2020.