Landing airplanes on moving ships is no mean feat, but this will be especially true when the airplanes are unmanned. Along with making decisions, autonomous airplanes will have to heed their human counterparts during aircraft carrier takeoff and landing — but can a robot read and understand arm-waving signals?
To fly the military’s baddest, most technologically advanced planes, you once had to have what Tom Wolfe called “that righteous stuff,” the willingness to strap yourself to a jet-fuel laden machine and push it to the very limits of its mechanical capabilities. Nowadays, unmanned systems have taken the human danger out of some combat missions, though human pilots remain at the sticks.
The future of carrier-based warfare quietly took to the skies over the weekend as the U.S. Navy successfully conducted the first-ever flight of its vaunted X-47B unmanned aircraft at Edwards AFB. The tailless, fighter-sized drone aircraft, designed by Northrop Grumman for carrier-based takeoffs and landings, spent half an hour in the air late Friday executing basic navigation maneuvers and otherwise proving that its design is airworthy and ready for further development.
Northrop Grumman has released a new photo of their carrier-based attack drone, the X-47B. It's due to make its first flight later this year as part of the Navy's J-UCAS program seeking a multi-purpose sea-based drone.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.