Late last month, Northrop Grumman's ultra-futuristic X-47B unmanned combat air system (UCAS) performed its first test flight in "cruise mode;" that is, with its landing gear up in its typical flight configuration:
While a robot wingman does sound cool, there are probably two things which are incorrect about the term "wingman." One would be the "man" part: there's no flesh, blood, or other specific piece of humanity and/or masculinity inside. The other thing is that the X-37B is nobody's wingbot. It's entirely capable of running missions on its own, either controlled remotely by a human, or completely autonomously.
These missions will eventually include aircraft carrier take-offs and landings, refueling, reconnaissance, and attack missions, which will look uncannily like this:
It's pretty wild how the CG footage looks nearly identical to the real thing: we're totally living in the future right now.
[ Northrop Grumman ]
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.