It's not often that we get to witness aviation history being made, but when we do, it's often awesome. Such is the case with the U.S. Navy's X-47B which just became the first unmanned aircraft to land on an aircraft carrier.
Landing a drone on an aircraft carrier was not a cheap or easy task. The so-called "Salty Dog 502" has been in training to accomplish such a feat for years now, and the program has cost the government over $1.4 billion. It won't spend anymore, because the Navy is retiring its two X-47B's and sending them to Navy museums in Florida and Maryland. The aircraft deserve nothing less than being enshrined. "Your grandchildren and great grandchildren, and mine, will be reading about this historic event in their history books," Rear Admiral Mat Winter told the press ahead of the landing. "This is not trivial."
How untrivial is it? Some of the top brass say that Wednesday's accomplishment is second only to the introduction of naval aircraft way back in 1911. And the thought of robot planes zipping on and off of floating runways is probably just as scary to the people of 2013 as the idea of planes on boats was to the people of 1911.
Nevertheless, Wednesday's landing was just one of many milestones the X-47B has hit in recent years. The Northrop Grumman drone is a big drone with a 62-foot wingspan, though it can fold its wings into a more compact shape. The two aircraft have more or less been in nonstop testing since their first flights in 2011 and made its first "catapult takeoff" from land six months ago. The operation moved to the aircraft carrier earlier this year, and in May, the X-47B made its first catapult takeoff from the deck and made nine touch-and-go landings.