LOS ANGELES – A bat-winged robotic jet resembling a miniature B-2 stealth bomber flew for the first time at Edwards Air Force Base in a test flight that could mark a new age in naval aviation.
Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Corp.’s experimental drone, dubbed X-47B, climbed to 5,000 feet in a 29-minute flight on Friday, the U.S. Navy said in a statement.
The X-47B is being developed to take off from an aircraft carrier, drop a bomb on an enemy target and then land back on a carrier, all without a pilot.
The drone was built behind barbed-wire fences and double security doors at Northrop’s expansive facility in Palmdale under a $635.8-million contract awarded by the Navy in 2007. The drone marks a major shift from existing robotic aircraft.
Currently, combat drones are controlled remotely by a human pilot. The X-47B could carry out a combat mission controlled entirely by a computer. A human pilot designs a flight path and sends it on its way and a computer program guides it from a ship to target and back.
The X-47B is designed to fly farther and stay in the air longer than existing aircraft because it does not depend on a human pilot’s endurance.