June 15 - The US Navy's first sea-based, unmanned attack aircraft has taken a major step towards production with the successful completion of flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The Northrop Grumman X-47 B has been designed for use at sea as a carrier-based plane, a new and highly sophisticated weapon in aerial warfare. Rob Muir reports.
The X-47B is the first drone designed to operate from an aircraft carrier at sea and carry out pre-programmed missions autonomously to a range of 1500 nautical miles. Take-off, landing, inflight refuelling and the deployment of weapons is controlled by computer. Flight testing began at Edwards Air Force Base in February, last year. Northrop Grumman says that during multiple flights since then, the X-47B reached altitudes exceeding 15,000 feet and demonstrated multiple manoeuvers relevant to carrier operations, including extending and retracting a tail hook and completing an autonomous "touch-and-go" landing - an aviation first. Engineers hope to begin carrier testing of the X-47B in 2013. Rob Muir, Reuters.