Last month, Northrop Grumman's X-47B Unmanned Combat Air thingy (Vehicle or System, take your pick) did a mostly excellent job at autonomously taking off from, and more importantly landing on, an aircraft carrier. Once everything was shown to work, the U.S. Navy was like, "awesome job, now never fly those things again," and the two X-47Bs were slated for permanent museum display. Fortunately for fans of big, expensive, scary-looking flying robots, the Navy has just changed its mind.
The Navy is now planning to deploy the drones to aircraft carriers three more times over the next two years. The first deployment should happen by the end of this year (so, very soon), followed by a second deployment about a year from now, and a final one from late 2014 until early 2015.
From the sound of things, that last deployment is going to be the most exciting one. The X-47B will "fully integrate with a 70-plane carrier air wing for several weeks," to (hopefully) show that robots can seamlessly work with manned aircraft in carrier operations. We'll also get to see the first aerial refueling operation, although we're not nearly as worried about that.
In addition to testing out the robotic aircraft more thoroughly, these deployments will also serve to prepare the aircraft carriers themselves for routine drone operations. And in many ways, that's the biggest hurdle that the X-47B has to fly over: getting humans comfortable with having sophisticated and potentially armed robots flying around on their own.
Via [ WarIsBoring ]
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.