ABOARD THE USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH, ATLANTIC OCEAN--All that was left on the carrier deck was a cloud of white steam wafting over a flight crew that was visibly bursting with excitement even with faces concealed behind bulky protective headgear, noise suppressing headsets, and darkly tinted goggles. Much of this whooping, backslapping, and enthusiastic embracing took place square in the middle of the flight deck where the Navy's experimental X-47B unmanned, autonomous combat jet had stood just moments before, Pratt and Whitney F100 jet engine screaming--before the robot gave its go-ahead salute--indicated by the a flash of its wingtip lights--and the catapult officer responded with the signal to launch, sending the X-47B catapulting off the carrier deck and into aviation history.
This morning at 11:18 a.m. eastern time, the X-47B became the first unmanned aircraft to ever complete a catapult launch from a carrier deck, an achievement just as momentous as the first launch of an aircraft from a naval vessel more than a century ago. And that's simply where the list of the X-47B's firsts begins.
The X-47B is also the first tail-less aircraft to operate from a carrier deck, which also makes it the first jet, manned or unmanned, with a low observable "stealth" profile to operate from a carrier. It's the first self-piloting, autonomous unmanned jet to fly in any branch of the military. In this writer's experience, it's the first unmanned aircraft that's this ridiculously cool.
Which explains the enthusiasm of the Navy/Northrop Grumman program crew that finally launched their Unmanned Combat Aerial System (UCAS) after years of development (though "combat" is part of the title, the two existing X-47Bs are only technology demonstrator meant to prove technological capability; Navy brass emphasize that it is not intended for active service, nor for weaponization). The team has been hard at work for the past year at Naval Air Station Patuxent River putting its X-47Bs through their paces on a terrestrial carrier simulator.
Noticeably absent from today's demonstration, however, was an arrested landing aboard the carrier. After launching from the USS Bush the air vehicle designated "Salty Dog 502" for the purposes of this demonstration flight made two approaches to the carrier, one at roughly 1,000 feet altitude and another just 50 feet above the flight deck. Both were simulated "wave-offs," where the Landing Signal Officer on deck or the aircraft decides that a landing is not safe and the aircraft aborts touchdown. Instead of eventually landing, Salty Dog 502 turned west and made a 65-minute flight back to Pax River in Maryland, where it landed on a terrestrial runway.
Navy brass on hand explained that while X-47B has already made several arrested carrier-style landings on the terrestrial simulator, it had not yet gathered enough of them to certify it for carrier operations and therefore could not, by Navy rule, return to the Bush. The X-47B's first carrier landings are slated for later this summer (probably July or August), said UCAS deputy program manager Don Blottenberger. And the lack of an arrested landing to cap off the day didn't seem to put a damper on the Navy UCAS team's spirits as the X-47B made passes over the carrier deck before autonomously banking into a flight path toward its home base at Pax River.
"This was one small step for man," Rear Adm. Mat Winter quipped shortly after the flight. "And one giant leap for unmanned kind."
It's not a fully autonomous jet, if I am correct only landings, take-offs and refueling are autonomous. There's a huge difference between an autonomous jet and a semi-autonomous jet.
Actually, almost every US carrier launch is now autonomous. This is due to the fact that the catapult G-forces cause pilots to briefly black-out during launch. So the first 2 or 3 seconds of a carrier launch are controlled autonomously.
This is the beginning of our unmanned fighter plane program. These things will seek out and destroy all manned aircraft that dare oppose it. As well as hit land targets unnoticed. Speed and G-force is no longer a limitation. Man -vs- The Terminator. No contest.
Today's magic is tomorrow's technology.
Quote "Navy brass emphasize that it is not intended for active service, nor for weaponization"
Meaning that they already have one in service, and it is heavily weaponized.
Why are you making a trolling comment? Why not offer something supportive or helpful to the artle? You should be blocked.
What are you talking about? Are you kidding me!? Are you now for censorship?! Being on the POPSCI website would make me think that you have an open and inquiring mind.
Code1032 just stated his opinion, which I happen to agree with. I have had the opportunity to meet people involved with the defense industry over the years, and what they could tell me, really opened my mind to all possibilities, including what Code1032 stated. Have an open mind. Explore, think, ask, inquire. Open your mind to all possibilities, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
Let's see. I know there must be a social benefit here somewhere. But while we're searching...
• There are 18 million American children who go to bed hungry each night.
• The elderly are facing curtailment of Social Security and Medicare, thrusting them back into abject poverty, something all of us can look forward to.
• Our national transportation infrastructure is crumbling, and the broadband network never got finished. Vast numbers of rural people have almost no reliable telecom service.
• About 20-25% of Americans are without work and another 25% underemployed, which means no family is untouched by worry.
• Our nuclear reactors are for the most part obsolete and operating beyond their planned lifespans.
• We are No. 30 in the world in terms of childbirth mortality, No. 1 in obesity.
• If you are a student, it's likely you are accumulating debt at a rate you may not pay off in your career lifetime.
• And, we are told, our nation is debt unworthy, spending more than its means well into the future. We have to cut, cut, cut.
So, tell me again, what is the purpose of this aircraft other than to fight an enemy that does to exist? And what happens to the thousands of skilled pilots, given that the airlines are also in distress? Do they go on sabbatical or welfare, or become supersonic barnstormers, when they retire from the service, as they inevitably will be asked to do once the kinks are worked out?
This isn't wondrous so much as it's pathetic. The only thing America is still really good at, on which our government lavishly spends our tax money, is making weapons for declared wars that we don't fight and for undeclared wars that we do fight -- but never win. Hoorah.
There are 18 million American children who go to bed hungry each night.
Our national transportation infrastructure is crumbling, and the broadband network never got finished. Vast numbers of rural people have almost no service.
About 20-25% of Americans are without work and another 25% underemployed.
Our nuclear reactors are for the most part obsolete and operating beyond their planned lifespans.
We are No. 30 in the world in terms of childbirth mortality, No. 1 in obesity.
If you are a student, it's likely you are accumulating debt at a rate you cannot pay off in your career lifetime.
And, we are told, our nation is debt unworthy, spending more than its means well into the future.
So, tell me again, what is the purpose of this aircraft other than to fight...whom? When? Where? And what happens to the skilled pilots? Do they go on sabbatical or welfare when they retire from the service, as they will be asked to do once the kinks are worked out?
I don't this wondrous so much as pathetic. It's the only thing we're still good at, making weapons for wars we don't fight, and wars we fight but don't win.
The admiral got it right: “This was one small step for man,” Rear Adm. Mat Winter quipped shortly after the flight. “And one giant leap for unmanned kind.”
I don't get a good feeling about where we are heading to. The whole killing people by automated machines does not make me feel all warm inside. Sure right now we still control them but the push for automated is such a boner in so many that its only a matter of time before it happens.
There are all sorts of benefits from this type of research that can help with several of the issues you present. You have to look at it with an open mind, as Tommyg says. The applications for this technology can improve transportation and lower prices of goods necessary to feed, clothe, house, educate, etc.
Also, you are upset that we are creating an alternative to manned warfare because it means fewer jobs? I'm sure pilot's families would rather have them alive and living at home rather than the other outcomes. Look at more than just the obvious surface issues.
Theodore Roosevelt said, "Walk softly and carry a big stick." X-47B is a prototype of another stick in our arsenal. What with militant Islam spreading across northern Africa and expanding Chinese imperialism, we need to stay ahead of the opposition. As for guns vs butter, well, we've always been able to afford both.
Why did the X-47B not retract its landing gear? Please don't tell me that it's a design flaw.
This story reminded me of the movie "Stealth", a 2005 American science fiction action film about the ultra sophisticated autonomous "F/A-37 Talon" fighter jet. Sort of like the computer Hal in 2001 A Space Odysset the Talon is supposed to be intelligent, objective, and incapable of making a mistake. Well, it is struck by lightning on a mission and, you guessed it, develops a mind of its own. Something to think about as our military starts to develop autonomous weapons.
Bob Jacobson: You need to realize that taking money from one program - or all programs - doesn't mean there will be fewer hungry people. There will just be fewer advances in science.
Somehow, I don't think that magical sentience-inducing lighting is one of the main things to worry about in this scenario.
I would personally welcome a future where all the fighting was done by autonomous machines, as long as all the _dying_ was done by autonomous machines. A war where only money was wasted, instead of human lives, would be a great improvement. The current reality of asymmetrical warfare, with terrorists attacking civilian population centers and being blown up (together with their civilian surroundings) by drones, does not make me optimistic.
Most test flights are done with the landing gear down, so they don't have to worry about it jamming or something when they land. They want it down in one piece.
What all the comments forget to see behind the smiling Navy Brass is this comment: (though “combat” is part of the title, the two existing X-47Bs are only technology demonstrator's meant to prove technological capability; Navy brass emphasize that it is not intended for active service, not for weaponization).
The physical size of this "test subject" is far larger than the everyday fighter/spy drone. If this wasn't intended as a future use tool-kit, then why craft it so, so, so large? Make a 1 foot hydro-copter and launch it instead. NO, NO my dear readers - this is damn good military at its best. Proud to be an American, proud of our military sciences, proud of our tinkering abilities. Not proud of the human life loss this will cause - but in the struggle of the fittest; we are on the right team. And my personal taxes are freely ok'd to do this project and all the others that make America a force for good.
Now we just need to fix some homegrown American problems too please: IRS scandal, the illegal lock-down of a city in Boston, etc.
FYI, the US Navy has been flying autonomous drones from their decks since 2005. The Boeing/Insitu ScanEagle drones cost US$0.8M each making them *far* more cost effective for unarmed missions than the US$400M X-47B. Unless there's a need for the X-47B's armament capability, the Navy should stick with the ScanEagle.
A. Bob.Jacobson is so right. Why the million/billions for these systems?
B. These systems don't need humans. The millionaires overlords will attack us and reduce us to slaves with these systems, whenever was is not so?
Imagine drones from their side fighting drones from our side. If there's an aerial victor, what does it mean?
Nobody killed. A lot of resources wasted.
Maybe it's time to give up on war and really get serious about foreign relations.
As much as I dislike US foreign policy, we have been a leader in the idea of international co-operation for peace. Let's get more serious about it and get the job done.
It's our watch, but not for much longer.
Um, I hate to disappoint you, but despite what most Americans seem to think, the rest of the world hasn't seen the U.S. as a "...leader in the idea of international co-operation for peace." for a very long time now, at least since the invasion of Iraq, if not before then... It hasn't been your watch for a while now, a fact that seems to have escaped your political leadership. Which is unfortunate, because while America is definitely still a force to be reckoned with, it has resulted in much of the world, particularly the Middle East, viewing the States as aggressors more than peacekeepers.
Incidentally, the credit for the idea of an international peacekeeping force goes to Canada, whose Prime Minister at the time won a Nobel Prize for it.
we can build complex killing machines
but where are the leaders who can
sit down and do the work of
jim carlin m d
"Actually, almost every US carrier launch is now autonomous. This is due to the fact that the catapult G-forces cause pilots to briefly black-out during launch. So the first 2 or 3 seconds of a carrier launch are controlled autonomously."
Uhhh, No. Unless things have changed dramatically since I had my last catapult launch.
That aerial victory would indeed have a major effect. Drone vs drone fights will serve the same purpose as nuclear weapons do now, a deterrent. The side that wins that aerial war will be free to park their planes over key targets, and just the threat of bombing them will bring the hostile country to the negotiating table. All this without loss of life (or at least, far less than a conventional war).
It will be the same thing on the ground when drones are used there. Ground drones fight each other, and the victor is free to move his drones into enemy territory and control it.
Only downside to this is the transition phase, where 1 country has drones and the other doesn't yet. The country without drones would be forced to fight with human lives...but at least the loss of life would still be less, since few are lost on the side with the drones.
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For drones to opperate with limited human intervention would allow for the U.S. to put those men who don't have to work all the time to jobs that could help the U.S. come out of debt, but not very quickly.
If we keep fighting wars that aren't ours, what happens when the U.S. doesn't exist anymore, in a good way, not invasion and incorporation, but like we join with other great countries to form large corporations and alliances, etc...
what will they do when they go to war, they won't be able to support themselves so, we must let others fight their own fights or risk a country crumbling to ruins when it is left unsupported.
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