NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - The Navy said Tuesday that it has wrapped up its carrier-based testing with a fighter-sized drone after the last of four landing attempts was scrubbed when a problem was detected while the jet was in flight.
The X-47B became the first unmanned aircraft to land aboard an aircraft carrier on July 10. It made two landings that day, while a third attempt was called off because of a self-detected navigation computer anomaly. That jet, nicknamed Salty Dog 502, was sent to the Eastern Shore of Virginia to land instead.
On Monday, a fourth attempt at landing on the USS George H.W. Bush off the East Coast using another X-47B, called Salty Dog 501, was scratched because of a "minor test instrumentation issue." The Navy says the jet safely returned to Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, where it also took off from. The Navy did not elaborate on Tuesday as to what the instrumentation issue was.
Navy officials originally wanted to complete three test landings aboard an aircraft carrier, but after two landings and two wave-offs they believe they have the data they need to proceed with the development of another drone that could join the fleet by 2020. The X-47B was never meant to be operational and both of the demonstrator aircraft will end up in Navy museums.
"Completing the first ever arrested landing with an autonomous, unmanned aircraft is truly a revolutionary accomplishment for the U.S. Navy," said Rear Adm. Mat Winter, who oversees the program executive office for unmanned aviation and strike weapons, said in a statement. "This demonstration has successfully matured the needed critical technologies for operations in the actual carrier environment and has set the stage for Naval Aviation to blaze the trail for relevant unmanned, carrier-based warfighting capabilities."
In addition to the landings, the X-47B was also the first unmanned aircraft to be catapulted off an aircraft carrier just like a traditional fighter jet. Navy officials said they were also thrilled with how the jet was able to seamlessly integrate with a carrier's flight deck operations, including refueling.
"The X-47B aircraft and the entire carrier system passed with flying colors," Capt. Jaime Engdahl, the Navy's Unmanned Combat Air System program manager, said in a statement.
On Tuesday, the Navy said there were no additional opportunities for the X-47B to land aboard the Bush, which has returned to its homeport in Norfolk. The X-47B that landed at the Wallops Flight Facility is expected to return to Naval Air Station Patuxent River later this week.
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