Drone makes carrier landing

By GABRIELLE LEVY, UPI.com  |  July 10, 2013 at 4:45 PM
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A Navy drone successfully completed a landing on the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush Wednesday, the first time an unmanned craft made an "arrested landing," considered the toughest flying maneuver in naval aviation.

The Northrop Grumman X-47B demonstration vehicle, a tailless unmanned autonomous aircraft, used a tailhook to halt its momentum once it touched down on the deck of the Bush off the Virginia coast, the Navy said.

The tailhook grabs a length of cabling on the runway, which, "Top Gun" style, yanks the craft to a short stop.

Two months ago, an unmanned aircraft made the first successful catapult launch, also off the Bush. And while it had never before tried a water landing, the X-47B had successfully completed a simulation of the maneuver on land in mid-March.

"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," said Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, in a statement announcing the landing.

The X-47B, nicknamed "Salty Dog 502" took off from the Naval Air Station on the Patuxent River and headed for the carrier. It is uniquely suited for difficult maneuvers, thanks to the most sophisticated autonomous programming on any kind of unmanned craft.

Although the X-47B won't be used in military operations, lessons learned from tests and demonstrations using the craft will be integrated into new drone models developed for military use in the future.

Instead, after Wednesday's run, Salty Dog and its twin -- the only two such craft in existence -- will head for display at the Navy museum.

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