X-47B robot stealth plane makes first flight

The plane is designed to take off from and land on aircraft carriers and fly at "high subsonic" speeds. A lightning strike just might make it self-aware.

The unmanned X-47B takes off at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Northrop Grumman

Only six years after the film "Stealth," Northrop Grumman has demonstrated its much ballyhooed X-47B robot stealth plane, successfully completing a 29-minute test flight to 5,000 feet at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Developed under a $635 million Navy contract, the unmanned, tailless jet provides greater range and power by taking off from aircraft carriers, delivering laser-guided bombs and refueling in the air.

The test flight, which had been expected to take place over a year ago, is a first step to demonstrating the plane on a carrier. Northrop Grumman now says that will happen in 2013 instead of this year.

The plane can fly at a "high subsonic" top speed, much faster than UAVs such as the Predator and Reaper drones.

The bat-winged X-47B has a wingspan of 62.1 feet, a maximum payload of 4,500 pounds, a host of sensor systems and a range of more than 2,100 nautical miles. It can be remotely piloted or programmed in advance for mission objectives.

It can also fly at over 40,000 feet, allowing deployments for intelligence-gathering, precision attacks and ballistic missile detection. It's slated for additional tests at Naval Air Station Patuxent River before carrier trials.

Another unmanned combat air vehicle, Britain's Taranis unmanned stealth plane is also to begin test flights this year.

Here's a clip of the X-47B's maiden flight.


 

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