Stealth drone takes maiden flight

Posted by Emma Woollacott

A military stealth drone that needs no human control at all took its first test flight on Friday.

The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstration aircraft was built by Northrop Grumman for the Navy. Unlike other unmanned aircraft, it doesn't need to be guided by a pilot on the ground.

Everything from takeoff to landing - and even mid-air refueling - is handled automatically, following a previously set flight path. It can even land on and take off from the deck of an aircraft carrier.

The fighter-size tailless aircraft took off and successfully flew for the planned 29 minutes. After takeoff, itclimbed to an altitude of 5,000 feet, flew several racetrack-type patterns, and landed safely.

"This event marks a critical step in the program, moving the team forward to meet the demonstration objectives of a tailless fighter-sized unmanned aircraft to safely take off from and land on the deck of a Navy aircraft carrier," officials said.

The plane can fly at more than 500 mph and can reach 40,000 feet. It's about 38 feet long, with a wingspan of 62 feet. It can handle a 4,500 pound payload, and is expected to carry two Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) 'smart' bombs.

The flight provided test data to verify and validate system software for guidance and navigation, and the aerodynamic control of the tailless design, says the Navy.

The X-47B - and a sister plane - will undergo around 50 more flights at the Edwards Air Force Base over the next year.