Navy’s Historic X-47B Drone Launch From an Aircraft Carrier

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ABOARD THE U.S.S. GEORGE H.W. BUSH — At 11:19 a.m. today, for the first time in history, a plane without a pilot in it executed one of the most complex missions in aviation: launching off an aircraft carrier at sea. Only the Navy can’t yet land that drone aboard the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush, an even harder but necessary maneuver if large drones are really going to operate off carriers.

On a crisp, bright and nearly cloudless day, about 100 miles off the Virginia coast, the crew of the Bushand the team behind the highly autonomous X-47B loaded up the deck’s second catapult with the drone and shot it off into the sky above the eastern Atlantic. The drone — which has its own callsign, “Salty Dog 502″ — turned downwind and passed over the ship twice, first from 1000 feet overhead and then from 60 feet overhead, before flying back to dry land in Maryland. The launch went exactly as the Navy hoped.

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