Today was a historic day for robots. On May 14, the U.S. Navy successfully launched a drone the size of a fighter jet from the deck of an aircraft carrier.
The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator (UCAS-D) completed its first ever carrier-based catapult launch from the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush off the coast of Virginia at 11:18 a.m. on Tuesday.
This marks the first time an unmanned aircraft has taken off while at sea, and it could mark the beginning of a new era in the use of military drones overseas.
Today's launch was the watershed event that Navy officials have been anxiously anticipating since they first started testing the Northrop Grumman drone in 2011.
"Today we saw a small, but significant pixel in the future picture of our Navy as we begin integration of unmanned systems in arguably the most complex war-fighting environment that exists today; the flight deck of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier," said Vice Admiral David Buss, commander of Naval Air Forces.
Earlier this month, the X-47B prepared for its first ever aircraft carrier landing by completing an arrested landing- the method used aboard aircraft carriers- at the Naval Air Systems Command station in Patuxent River, Md.
The X-47B, which isn't entirely autonomous, flew a series of pre-programmed maneuvers Tuesday before landing again at the command station. Control of the stealth flyer can be passed between several remote operators.
"The flight today demonstrated that the X-47B is capable of operation from a carrier, hand-off from one mission control station to another, flight through the national airspace, and recovery at another location without degradation in safety or precision," said Matt Funk, lead test engineer for the Navy UCAS program.
But don't expect to see this drone on the battlefield anytime soon. According to the U.S. Navy, the X-47B is being used only for test purposes, and for the time being, this giant toy plane remains unarmed.
According to Rear Admiral Mat Winter, who leads the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, a carrier-based unmanned aircraft is the ideal tool for training and providing continuous intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. There was no mention of arming the drone.
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