Like Maverick and Goose, Navy pilots need to trust the person they fly with — or, in this case, the robot they fly with. Earlier this week, an X-47B drone took off and landed alongside a F-18 Hornet on the USS Theodore Roosevelt — the first time manned and unmanned aircraft operated together aboard a carrier. The X-47B has already proven it can operate on an aircraft carrier; the Navy wanted to know whether it could seamlessly work itself into the flight rotation with living, breathing pilots.
On Sunday, the X-47B took off directly after a manned F-18, then landed, folded its wings and taxied away so that the F-18 could land. "Today we showed that the X-47B could take off, land and fly in the carrier pattern with manned aircraft while maintaining normal flight deck operations," Capt. Beau Duarte, manager of the Navy's unmanned carrier aviation office, said in a statement. There are more tests to come, but it's a sign that unmanned drones could play a bigger role in future Navy operations.
- Keith Wagstaff