On a clear day early next year, an unmanned aircraft painted in the dark gull gray of a Navy fighter jet will take off from a runway at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, bank over the Chesapeake Bay and set a course toward an aircraft carrier, motoring several miles out over the Atlantic. As it approaches the carrier, the craft will open communication with air-traffic control, request landing clearance from the deck officers and establish a glide slope that accounts for wind velocity, ship speed and even the slight rolling of the ship's deck. Pilots consider a carrier landing one of the hardest operations in all of flight. The X-47B will land without any pilot at all.
The X-47B is the world's first autonomous warplane. From takeoff through landing, it flies with little or no direct control from human handlers. Although it is a prototype not intended for actual combat use—the Navy calls it a technology demonstrator—engineers designed it to slip into contested airspace, dodge antiaircraft defenses like cannons and surface-to-air missiles, and deliver strikes or perform reconnaissance. When it completes its mission early next year, the X-47B will be both the first tailless aircraft and the first unmanned one to ever land on a carrier. And it will mean that the Navy, armed with some future variant, will have the capability to order unmanned sorties from carrier groups anywhere in the world within hours of a clash.
The X-47B is also a big step forward in robotic flight. The U.S. military has roughly 10,000 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which ply the skies above places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and, sometimes, the U.S. Engineers call such aircraft man-in-the-loop systems, and humans typically control them remotely, whether from a ground base nearby or a command post a continent away. The X-47B is a man-on-the-loop system: While people retain control over the general mission, the moment-to-moment decisions are left to the aircraft's robot brain.
Outside of flight, man-on-the-loop systems are becoming increasingly common. Scientists have been using autonomous probes to map the ocean floor for the past decade. The U.S. Department of Energy recently deployed autonomous ground vehicles to patrol the Nevada National Security Site, a former proving ground for nuclear weapons. And farmers are starting to use self-driving tractors to till fields and harvest crops. What sets the X-47B apart from those systems is the nature of its environment. Rather than a deserted waste site or an empty field, the X-47B is designed to operate on and around an active aircraft carrier.
After five years of development, engineers at Northrop Grumman and within the Navy's Unmanned Combat Air Systems (UCAS) group have created a robot brain capable of operating in such a complex setting. It can process vast amounts of flight data, make near-instantaneous decisions and guide an aircraft to a flawless, squealing halt on the deck of a carrier. Now the designers face a different kind of challenge: training the aircraft to work with people.
Here is the link for the F7U and XFU. All photos clearly show vertical tails..
as for the wiki site..
it even states in the article that "The design featured broad chord, low aspect ratio, swept wings, with twin wing-mounted tail fins either side of a short fuselage."
So in short.. once this Drone lands.. it will be the first truly tail-less air frame to land on an aircraft carrier.
The term "man-on-the-loop" refers to IT network incursion monitoring/prevention (see Man On The Loop, 25 January 2012, Michael C. Sirak). When discussing unmanned, autonomous, or remotely piloted aircraft systems the traditionally used term is "man-in-the-loop," which describes how the human control element is still a part of the decision making process in a man-machine-interface (MMI).
Wonder what they will do when it is struck by lightning, downloads EVERY single song on the internet, and then proceeds to decide to attack something at random?? Could we then get Jessica Biehl, Josh Lucas, and Jaime Foxx to go after it??.....juuuuuuust kidding folks......I just hope one never goes haywire is all I am saying........
@Shinkaze - The total manpower cost of aircrew on a carrier comprises probably only between 1 and 4% of the total population. A single F/A-18 is supported by only between two to four pilots. The only people the drone system would put out of work would be egress and life support systems.
You still need maintainers, intel operations, ship crew, deck crew, C3 systems, weapons and ammo systems, defensive operations, and fleet command. Those are the people who make a carrier such an expansive place, not becuase you removed a single zipper-suit from a cockpit.
And, as mentioned, aircraft size is a function of how many and what kinds of munitions you want to employ. Yes, you could get munitions anywhere around the world faster by using ballistic missiles, that doesn't mean that's at all feasible.
I could see a lightweight drone carrier in the future for inshore water operation, but big carriers will be going nowhere, and the aircraft used on such a light drone carrier would be far smaller than the X-47B.
Another thing about the carrier based projection of force that hasn't been discussed on the thread is the immense value of deterrent. See, the thing about drones is that they'll go attack anything on command, but coming into a hot airspace and taking command of a combat environment that can be stabilized without actual combat? That's the real when we are taking the pilot away. How many times have we gone air to air weapons free versus how many times where our presence was enough? Carriers aren't going anywhere and neither are pilots. We get serious hard value in both peace and war, and any argument against the carrier has to start with a real quantification of the value we receive over a carrier's lifetime. The drone issue and the carrier issue are totally different, and trying to lump them in the same bowl won't help the proponents of either win out over the other. That's bs, and an unrealistic view of modern battlespace. Someone above said we only avoided getting our ass handed to us in Vietnam by superior supply? Get Real. We CONTINUE to 'keep ourselves from getting our asses handed to us' through superior ability to bring firepower to target. You can say 'that's because of supply', blah, blah, and pretty soon it's because of granny's apple pie.
Maybe the Navy should call this one "The Cylon."
@ docsligh; ooh, good one. I-I-I LIKE IT; as Chevy Chase would say, if he liked it.
Skynet that's all I got to say.
you gonna make biscuits?