Happy Monday. Here's some drone history being made: This video shows the U.S. Navy's X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator (UCAS-D) making its very first arrested landing. On May 4, the stealthy drone landed aboard a mock aircraft carrier flight deck, painted on a runway at the Navy's airbase at Patuxent River, Md.
The Northrop Grumman-made X-47B is meant to prove that the Navy can operate a fighter jet-sized stealthy drone from aircraft carriers -- paving the way for a fleet of similar aircraft to enter service around 2020 under a program called Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike or UCLASS. The Navy is testing the X-47B's ability to do everything from safely taxi around a crowded flight deck to takeoff and land autonomously on a carrier's four-acre deck (a human simply gives the plane clearance to land and then monitors the jet while a computer controls the actual maneuvers).
The X-47B is slated to fly from an actual aircraft carrier for the first time in the next year or so; the whole demonstration program will run until 2015.
Meanwhile, the sea service will soon give Northrop, Boeing, Lockheed, and General Atomics contracts to flesh out their designs for a stealthy, carrier-launched drone capable of flying through advanced air defenses, spying on potential targets, and even dropping bombs on them under the UCLASS program. That program is intended to incorporate the lessons learned from the Navy's experience with the X-47B to field operational jets by the end of this decade.