In a first for the United States Navy, or any combat for in history for that matter, an unmanned combat air vehicle has been landed on an aircraft carrier, with no onboard pilot whatsoever. The X-47B “Salty Dog 502” landed on the USS George H.W. Bush, sailing off the coast of Virginia, on Wednesday.
Capt. Jaime Engdahl on the Navy Live blog says that, "Landing on a carrier’s flight deck is one of the most challenging tasks for a naval aviator – one that takes extensive training and regular practice to perfect."
He went on to explain that the unmanned flight landed "autonomously without the guiding hand of an experienced pilot, but rather using precision GPS navigation, a high-integrity network connection and advanced flight control software to guide itself through the turbulent air behind the aircraft carrier and onto the moving flight deck."
Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration team, the group that has accomplished this feat, is proud of their accomplishment. It is a huge step for American combat readiness.
"Our extremely professional and hardworking X-47B integrated test team has distinguished itself as the group who expertly proved an integrated system of an unmanned, tailless X-47B airframe, autonomous software, high integrity networks and ship based control systems. In fact, for the second consecutive year, our the team was recently recognized by the Association of Naval Aviation and Naval Air Systems Command with the Edward H. Heinemann Award for its significant contribution to aircraft design."
This particular craft is not combat-ready, but after this test there certainly will be more.
While the X-47B itself is not intended for operational use, the UCAS program has developed the concept of operations and demonstrated the technology for follow-on unmanned carrier based aircraft. The program demonstrated the ability to seamlessly integrate unmanned systems into the carrier environment with only small incremental changes to the existing equipment and concept of operations.