U.S. Navy Lands a Drone on an Aircraft Carrier for the First Time

Mike O'Brien

In a historic test flight, the U.S. Navy landed a drone on an aircraft carrier for the first time ever on Wednesday.

The flight involved an experimental bat-winged X-47B UAV making an arrested landing off the coast of Virginia.

Even for the most experienced pilot, landing on an aircraft carrier is a difficult operation. The unmanned X-47B was controlled almost entirely by computer.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said in a statement: "By evolving and integrating new technology like the X-47B and the unmanned aircraft to follow, carriers will remain relevant throughout their 50-year lifespan."

The drone, which was built by Northrop Grumman, was launched from the deck on Wednesday morning and landed on the carrier George H.W. Bush after a short flight over the Atlantic.

The Navy said that the drone completed a second successful landing on the carrier 45 minutes after the first one.

The test flight was seen as a milestone in drone technology. Combat drones are controlled remotely by a human pilot, but the X-47B is designed to carry out a combat mission controlled almost entirely by a computer.

A human pilot would design its flight path and send it on its way; a computer program would then guide it from a ship to the target and back.