In tests aboard the
"What you saw today was history," said Rear Adm.
The X-47B is largely autonomous and doesn't require human guidance to fly. Instead, it receives directions via computers and sensors, then flies itself, though it won't decide to break off and follow something on its own.
Sunday's demonstration was the first of six test launches and landings the
Despite a few delays, Capt.
The drone that was supposed to participate in Sunday's trial did not make it to the carrier, but instead returned to shore after a fuel pump problem was discovered.
Another X-47B took its place, but its catapult launch was delayed because the bow of the carrier was slightly lower than its rear. For launching experimental aircraft, the flight deck must be level or better, Duarte said. It took about 30 minutes to move equipment and transfer fuel to the rear of the ship.
The Hornet took off first, followed by the drone. Both banked around the ship at about 1,200 feet for an eight-minute flight pattern and passed overhead. Another eight minutes passed when the drone approached the carrier, touched down and then immediately took off again -- this sequence was meant to verify that all of the X-47B's systems were working correctly.
After another pass, the drone landed and caught a wire on the ship's deck with an auto-retractable hook. A deck operator wearing a newly designed control steered the X-47B out of the way for the jet to land. Then the sequence was repeated.
The trial marks the prototype X-47B's fifth test period at sea, according to the
Since then, the drone has completed eight catapult launches from a carrier, 30 touch-and-goes, and seven arrested landings aboard USS George H.W. Bush and the Roosevelt.
It is expected to take years of additional work before unmanned aircraft become a regular part of the
The prototype is being used to develop a new class of drone that will launch from carriers, alongside manned aircraft, with surveillance and strike capabilities. Winter said this program, called UCLASS, has been delayed for deployment until 2020.
Winter said it is important to "bring these technologies together in war-fighting capabilities to provide the decisive advantage and that capability enhancement, so we can continue to fight the fight and win."
But he said the drones will not take the place of manned craft nor will computers take the place of pilots.
"It's not an unmanned over all others," Winter said. "It's a blending of unmanned and manned capabilities, and that will be the naval aviation strategy as we move into the future."
Rockett can be reached by phone at 757-247-4942.
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