X-47B drone returns to roost after historic flight testing

                  ATLANTIC OCEAN (July 10, 2013) An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator completes an arrested landing on the flight ...
An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator completes the first ever autonomous arrested landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush. MC3 Kevin J. Steinberg

Northrup Grumman's X-47B drone has completed its final flight and has headed home to its base, possibly for the last time. The entirely autonomous aircraft was the test bed for a number of future drone features, and the first to successfully land itself on an aircraft carrier.

"Salty Dog 502," as the operating X-47B is known (it has a twin not being flown at present), was temporarily staying at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, having flown there after scrubbing a landing attempt on the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush. A minor error was detected in its software and the test operators decided to have it land at a safe location instead of the carrier.

The aborted landing came after two successful ones over the last few weeks — the first ever such landings by an autonomous aircraft. The X-47B was created as a demonstration craft for the purpose of attempting such firsts, but will never see production. It was also the first autonomous craft to make a successful catapult take-off, earlier this year.

Friday saw the craft make a successful flight back to the Navy's Patuxent station, where it and the only other X-47B built will remain for now. The Navy may think up "additional test operations," or the two now-venerable drones may be packed off to the Navy museum.

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is