Update – Third attempt on 7-15-13 unsuccessful. Frequent failures are the price of innovation. Two successful landings is very cool.
Here’s an amazing first: a self-flying drone, the X-47B, took off from land at Patuxent NAS, flew to the U.S.S. George H. W. Bush and landed itself. It was then launched off the catapult and landed again.
Check out the video in the WSJ article: Navy Drone Successfully Lands on Aircraft Carrier.
There wasn’t an operator on the ground controlling the drone – it flew itself. Very cool.
Here’s some data on the drone from In Historic first, Navy lands unmanned drone on aircraft carrier.
The X-47B is far bigger than the Predator, has three times the range and can be programmed to carry out missions with no human intervention, the Navy said.
The X-47B has a wingspan of about 62 feet and weighs 14,000 pounds, versus nearly 49 feet and about 1,100 pounds for the Predator.
The X-47B can reach an altitude of more than 40,000 feet and has a range of more than 2,100 nautical miles, versus 675 for the Predator. The Navy plans to show the drone can be refueled in flight, which would give it even greater range.
Washington Post article lists these specs from Northrup Grumman:
Altitude: 40,000 feet
Speed: High subsonic
Weapons: 4,500 pounds
Range: 2,100 miles (without refueling)
Endurance: 6 hours (also without refueling)
That 4,500 pound load gives it a lot of capabilities.
While this is one of only two prototypes, it indicates what will be developed soon. An autonomous aircraft that could carry surveillance equipment, weapons, and be refueled in flight. That is a huge leap forward in naval air capability.