On Wednesday, the X-47B Navy drone exercised the first unmanned carrier landing in history, landing aboard the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) off the Virginia coast. “By evolving and integrating new technology like the X-47B and the unmanned aircraft to follow, carriers will remain relevant throughout their 50-year lifespan,” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus stated. This historic event followed on the X-47B completing an underway carrier deck operation on the same ship in May, which included a catapult launch and nine touch-and-gos.
The drone, which has been labeled “Salty Dog 502,” launched from Naval Air Station Patuxent River before landing on the carrier; it landed on the runway of the carrier and was grabbed by the tailhook by a cable. The drone utilized tracking and navigation technology.
According to NBC News, the X-47B has highly sophisticated equipment that makes such a landing possible, and also has wings that fold over for easier storage.
UPDATE: The drone has now completed a second landing aboard the aircraft carrier. The Secretary of the Navy Tweeted, “America’s Away Team just added a whole new dimension to its ability to provide presence.”