A robotic warplane began navigating the deck of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier as a prelude to possible flight tests.
The Navy's X-47B drone rolled around the deck of the USS Harry S. Truman under the guidance of human operators — going through the motions necessary for preparing to take off or taxiing around the busy flight deck. Such testing marked a historic step toward a future when the U.S. military replaces many of its manned fighter jets and bombers with robotic warplanes.
"This type of innovation hasn't been seen since the first time an aircraft landed aboard a carrier, which puts us further ahead as a military," said Lt. Anthony Lee, Truman's flight deck officer.
Sailors controlled the X-47B with an arm-mounted control display unit that resembles a cross between a cyborg arm and a video game controller. Separate controls would allow a drone operator to guide the robotic warplane during takeoff, flying and landing.
"I think it's been especially popular with younger sailors who have grown up surrounded by computers," said Matt Funk, lead test engineer on the X-47B demonstration. "They recognize that the systems used to control and fly the aircraft are very much like what they'd expect to see in a video game."
The Navy drone is expected to wrap up the taxiing tests before the aircraft carrier Truman returns to port at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia. The drone first boarded the aircraft carrier in late November to kick off the start of carrier testing both in port and at sea.
Past tests with the X-47B included land-based takeoffs and landings from regular runways, cruising flights and even preparations for testing midair refueling. The Navy also tested the drone's capability to undergo a steam catapult launch on land similar to how it would launch from the deck of an aircraft carrier.