The Navy's fearsome robotic stealth fighter takes to the skies

There are combat drones used by the military that are deadly, certainly. Northrop Grumman's X-47B robotic stealth plane, however, is in a class all its own. It can also do something no other combat drone does yet: take off from aircraft carriers.

The ability to take off (and land, hopefully) from an aircraft carrier may not sound too fancy, but in the drone world it could be an absolute game-changer. Right now, the U.S. military has to rely on remote bases abroad and allies with airstrips to deploy scout and attack drones away from American soil.

The X-47B, instead, can deploy from a carrier, and has a longer range than today's conventional fighters such as the F/A-18, a strike fighter commonly deployed from carriers. Longer range means the vessel can stay farther off shore, in turn meaning it's safer, and the drones can launch wherever there's water, essentially.

This flight marks the maiden voyage for the X-47B, and Northrop Grumman is pretty stoked: "Taking off under hazy skies, the X-47B climbed to an altitude of 5,000 feet, flew several racetrack-type patterns, and landed safely at 2:38 PM PST. The flight provided test data to verify and validate system software for guidance and navigation, and the aerodynamic control of the tailless design."

If all goes according to plan and the X-47B gets added to the fleet (which could happen sometime toward the end of the decade), the tailess strike fighter will find itself going on missions controlled by a remote operator or programmed in advance.

See it take to the skies in the video below.

Via CNET and Wired

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