When the X-47B Salty Dog 502 became the first drone to land on an aircraft carrier in July, Navy officials properly hailed the event as a technological milestone. Not only did the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) catapult from the flight deck of the USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77) and successfully perform touch-and-go exercises and two landings, catching the tailhook wire with precision, but it did all of that autonomously, using its own robot “brain” of complex algorithms without need of a human drone operator as most other UAVs require. “It’s not often you get a chance to see the future, but that is what we got today,” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus declared after the demonstration.
Drones to the Rescue!
The current budget squeeze has revived the debate about whether to reduce the number of the Navy’s aircraft carriers, but the prospective addition of unmanned aerial vehicles to the flattop’s arsenal will make the ships even more valuable in coming years.
By Daniel Goure