X-47B Drone Boards Carrier For First Time

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The X-47B, designed to fly autonomously as an unmanned strike aircraft and land on the deck of an aircraft carrier, was taken aboard the USS Harry S. Truman Monday at Norfolk naval base, Va., for its first shipboard tests. The aircraft will undergo three weeks of testing, both at Norfolk and along the Atlantic coast, to confirm on-deck handling, control and performance. In a news release, Monday, the Navy did not directly state that the aircraft would undergo flight operations, but that it would "demonstrate seamless integration into carrier flight deck operations." Carrier launches and recoveries of the X-47B are not expected until next year and could mark all new and controversial capabilities for Naval operations.

The X-47B is designed to be capable of carrying out combat missions without real-time human interaction. It can be programmed ahead of time to fly missions autonomously, guided by onboard systems designed to deliver it from a ship to its target and back. Aside from automated shipboard launches and traps, the drone is meant to also be capable of automated refueling. It hosts a weapons bay capable of holding 4,500 pounds. Its 62-foot wingspan is wider than the Navy's F/A-18 Super Hornet -- a notable difference for shipboard operations. On the Truman, members of the carrier's crew and engineers will use a hand-held controller to maneuver the aircraft on deck.