130517-N-YZ751-017 ATLANTIC OCEAN (May 17, 2013) An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator conducts a touch and go landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), marking the first time any unmanned aircraft has completed a touch and go landing at sea. George H.W. Bush is conducting training operations in the Atlantic Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tony D. Curtis/Released)

The X-47B drone scoots off the front end of the USS BUSH flight deck and back into the sky after its first “touch and go.”

The eagle hasn’t exactly landed, but it did the next best thing. This afternoon, off the Virginia coast, the Navy’s experimental X-47B UCAS (Unmanned Combat Air System) became the first unmanned aircraft to do a “touch and go” on an aircraft carrier.

That’s a major milestone for the pioneering drone, which just this Tuesday conducted its first-ever launch off a carrier (the same carrier as in today’s test, the USS George H.W. Bush). But landing on an aircraft carrier is even harder than launching — you’re trying to hit a small, moving target (the deck) rather than a large, stationary one (the sky) — and it’s much more dangerous if it goes wrong — since you’re heading at high speed towards the ship full of people instead of away from it into the empty ocean. So as the program carefully worked up from one to the other, Navy officials decided a good intermediate step for the X-47B was a touch-and-go.

Children of the eighties like myself may remember the words “touch and go” as a double entendre in the absurd Kenny Loggins song “Highway to the Danger Zone,” which featured prominently in the almost equally absurd movie Top Gun. All macho posturing aside, it’s a difficult trick (which is probably why the Navy had no press aboard this time): An aircraft comes in as if landing, touches its wheels to the runway or flight deck, and then at the last moment pours on the power and take off again. Besides being an impressive stunt, it’s a maneuver often used to help novice pilots practice landing over and over again on a single flight.

The robot brain of the X-47B didn’t need to practice, exactly, but the Navy wanted to make sure it could track the deck of the aircraft carrier — a moving, rolling, pitching target — and align itself properly for a landing, before they actually tried to land. That will be the next milestone for the program, sometime later thus summer.

And beyond that? The X-47B is purely experimental and unarmed, but the Navy plans to start working on a combat-capable successor, the UCLASS (Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike System), that will be the long-ranged, radar-penetrating cutting edge of the carrier air wing in future wars with high-tech foes — say, just for example, China. Ultimately what this program is about is “AirSea Battle” in the Persian Gulf and the Pacific.


Edited 6:30 pm, May 18 to embed Navy video and explain risks of carrier landings.


  • PolicyWonk

    This is MUCH more impressive than the mere launching!

    • http://defense.aol.com/ Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

      And much more dangerous if something goes wrong, because the drone is coming TOWARDS the ship instead of launching AWAY from it — which I suspect is why the Navy did NOT have reporters aboard this time.

      • boborion1

        You don’t need any pud knockers from the Fourth Estate getting in the way of air ops. The Navy is quite capable of filming these events without a bunch of Feather Merchants taking-up space.

        • unforgiven

          I see you have a lot of regard for your fellow citizens. If they are their it’s because the navy want them and they are their as professional. Not merely to kiss your ass.

          • gokartmozart

            Perhaps your opinions would bear more veracity if you learned the difference between ‘there’ ‘their’ and ‘they’re’. Proper use of plurals might help too. If you aspire to be a pundit, it might be a good idea to learn how to properly speak the English language first.

          • PastureMuffins

            Thank you. Maybe when unforgiven gets past the fourth grade they will know the difference, and which one to use.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Garry-Carlson/100000954667437 Garry Carlson

            I am sure “unforgiven” takes the blame for his errors in grammar, as well as, credit for his comments content. Unfortunately, many in this country are not professors in English, which means, we all make mistakes, that can be corrected at one time or another, by a novice such as yourself. Lighten up with the sarcasm fore, you could be next! If, you stop and think about it, deaf people, such as myself, have obstacles to overcome you can’t even begin to fathom, when learning English. Ask the question, which is more important, “How “unforgiven” is heard, or, that, he is heard”? I suggest the latter.

          • user34603

            thank you for saying that…

          • fastfreddy

            Proper grammar is highly overrated.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/George-Spalding/100003047588633 George Spalding

          Translation please.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Scott/100000825705273 James Scott

          Perhaps capable, but if they think like you, not worthy.

  • CaptainNed

    Wouldn’t even have caught the 4-wire.

    • Chris Downie

      It’s just a touch and go landing, none of the wires were even out nor was the gear to catch any of the wires were out (And it’s a big gear). It’s pulled off landing with wires on land, it will have no problem catching the carrier’s wires.

    • gokartmozart

      I dunno, it looked like it might have been close to catching the spot where the last wire would be with where I’d assume the tail hook is positioned on this thing.
      It was a bit long though; maybe they weren’t trying to get the right distance, just the right (lateral) alignment. Still pretty impressive for autonomous cumputerized flight control.

    • John Walker

      How many aircraft on the Bush catch the 4-wire ?

  • Northrop retiree

    Only wish Jack Northrop could be alive to see this. His grand daughter Janet was standing next to me for a B-2 fly by and cried.

  • JD Lee

    In your face china!

    • chingonraul

      wats so big,, china’s got in ur face unman nukes .. they dont need crap like this

      • fast freddy

        Drones rule!

  • James Bailey

    Interesting to watch Navy fighter pilots becoming obsolete. The Air Force is next.

    • http://www.facebook.com/spike.sheen Spike Sheen

      Bud, you’re not far from the truth with all branches of service. many of the tactical aircraft today, already have the ability to virtually fly themselves after engine start and pins pulled. Its a simple matter of loading the data to the mission computer and ensuring ECM’s are engaged. Once the requirement for dog fighting/evasion has been worked out, the only thing a pilot has to do is read a newspaper and enjoy the flight.

      • twiz1

        Actually I would have to wonder when the last time an ACTUAL dogfight has occurred. Korea maybe? I can’t recall a single story about dogfights in Afghanistan or either of the Iraq wars. Maybe someone can correct me on that but nothing I recall reading about. Yeah maybe we fought air to air with missiles from miles away but cannons blazing away plane to plane…I would think I would remember a story like that.

        • Anonymous


        • http://defense.aol.com/ Colin Clark

          There have been at least two air to air fights– I’m not sure they were dogfights– involving us and Iraqi aircraft. The idea of becoming an ace may well have to grow to include knocking out surface defenses if they are ever going to happen again. Of course, the Air Force and their maritime colleagues argue that our air superiority is the very reason dogfights and other air air fights rarely occur. But I don’t think we’ve faced an impressive conventional adversary — like the Germans, Soviets or Japanese — in quite some time.
          Colin Clark
          Breaking Defense

          • twiz1

            That was my point as we gain more and more technologically superior in all aspects the likelihood of an actual dogfight is less and less. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if in the not too distant future cannons won’t even be installed on many fighters in much the same manner as machine gun turrets on bombers. And to Anonymous…yeah botched the timeline of Korea versus Vietnam. Wasn’t born yet…sorry.

          • stvhndyman

            Anonymous was right Vietnam. And in Nam they found out it was not all about missles. They had to retrofit the F4 Phantom with cannons to compete in dog fights with the MIG’s.

          • twiz1

            Duly noted thanks. I think I may have read at some point that they were even using WWII era fighters in either Korea or Nam as they were more maneuverable at slower speeds or something.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Hill/100000255413248 Michael Hill

    I saw a documentary on the construction of the George H. W. Bush. The bulbous bow was constructed wrong. The highly trained, over paid, lazy worthless shipwrights screwed up. They hadd to use hydraulic jacks to spread the space where it was to go in so that it would fit. That ship needs to be drydocked and a correct bulbous bow made.

    • Gitche-gumee

      If the whole ship was constructed by the same highly trained, over paid lazy, worthless shipwrights perhaps they should just scrap the whole ship and start over with untrained, underpaid (financially) worthless day laborers.

  • crazy joe biden

    Well now they can land in front of your home to make sure you are a terrorist before they bomb the crap out of you.

  • Angel

    This triangular drone is a decoy. It is a device built from the ground up to deceive the public, and to throw a smoke screen over the present Triangular football field sized UFO vessels now appearing world wide. It is believed by your government that once people see this photo, they will no longer value the thousands of reports now coming in world wide about the Triangular Alien Vessels which now have FULL CONTROL of the worlds air space, as well as FULL CONTROL of all nuclear facilities world wide.

    • PastureMuffins

      Wanna share that good shit you’re smokin’ ?

      • http://www.facebook.com/santosonny.piazza Santo Sonny Piazza

        Ha! good one.

      • Anonymous


    • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Scott/100000825705273 James Scott

      Please get help.

  • Cy Retired


  • Steve Cramsie

    But without Navy or Marine pilots, who will the skanks and cougars who hang out at the Officer’s Club going to throw themselves at now?

    • CommonSense4America

      Their RCPVS. Remote Controled Personal Viberating System.

    • disqus_vOjED70V7L


    • Peter Policani

      I can guess

  • user34603

    ” say, just for example, China. ” and a smartie-pants reference to an old movie and song could have been left out if the author had been reporting the news and not trying to be ‘oh, so smart’ … Tell us what happened, stop editirializing in a news story, and stop speculating.

  • Gary65L

    Got to feed the “war machine” the military has to have it’s toys no matter what the cost!

    • CommonSense4America

      Yes,,,their toys are there to help save your sorry @$$.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Scott/100000825705273 James Scott

        Those toys haven’t done one thing to save my ass, or yours. It’s to further the policies of the banking and oil cartels.

        • CommonSense4America

          Our military has done more than just keep america free, it has also kept millions of other countries free.

          • G.E.R.R.Y.

            It doesn’t keep ANYONE free. It occupies other people’s countries and that same mentality that forces it to do that also invades the US itself and insidiously removes citizens’ privacy and freedoms. Americans need to wake up!

    • Colin Campbell

      Yea right. “Toys” Maybe you may like our people getting killed but I am all for sending a machine in harm’s way instead of a person.

  • john meenaghan

    This is insanity. Without a pilot to judge the exact conditions, their putting a $2 billion dollar aircraft carrier in jeopardy if this drone crashes into it. There are way too many factors to landing any plane, but on a moving platform in seas that move the ship constantly, requires the reflexes of a real pilot.

    • FRANK


      • rdog

        it will be grounded in those conditions and another aircraft type will do the mission. The x-47b is just one of many tools for the job.

    • Colin Campbell

      The Navy has been conducting automated carrier landings for years. And a drone has faster reflexes than a human pilot.


    Just a lot of fly byes. Lets see it land on the carrier.

  • Electric Spirit

    It seems to me that remote control of flying machines will far surpass the capabilities of manned flight very soon. With far less concern for man’s limitation of G-Force and higher tech, more intuitive flight systems, I am certain that before long they will be able to dock these things under the wings of flying carrier aircraft and space orbiting satellites as well.

  • mofots

    These drones are gonna wind up turning against us.I saw that in a movie once.

    • Anonymous

      Black Ops 2?

  • Maverick

    Outstanding .

  • Take a Bath

    The Chinese cannot develop anything on their own. They have to borrow, steal, copy, and lie to get technology.

    • Ctrot

      That is true or has been true up until now. But the Chinese are not stupid, after all many are schooled at the finest American universities. They’ve now developed, or I should say we’ve now given them, such a great wealth of knowledge and talent that they can now build on that on their own with less and less need to steal from the west. How long will it be before they surpass us and it is we who are stealing high tech from them?

    • p_guy

      Why reinvent the wheel? We’re airbags or ABS reinvented or did everybody just copy and tweak it?

      I myself don’t like drones.
      It’s heralded as safer as less of your own will be killed in battle. True.

      But isn’t this the realities of war? Take that away, dehumanizing as it were and then war seems easy. The massive loss of life on either side is the horror of war.

      Is that what we really want?

  • Roger M

    I must say that I am very impressed and proud of our Military. Way to go Ladies and Gentlemen!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/alfred.leffall Alfred Leffall

    yea it may be superior to chinese,technology.But will we have to borrow the money from
    them,to further the program

  • deddog

    And no mention of the guy behind the stick. Impressive for a pilot that wasn’t even in the aircraft.

    • http://defense.aol.com/ Colin Clark

      This plan does not a controller flying it as does the Predator. See Sydney’s last story for an explanation of the aircraft’s highly autonomous systems.
      Colin Clark
      Breaking Defense

  • panofom

    can we request a fly by over south Florida -thats cool – great respect for the navy-my grandfather was a doctor on a ship during the war

  • YourANewbBitch

    If only we had the shit they make in Call of Duty… fucking nobody would want to fight anymore

  • Joemensa

    if all it could do was touch and go, how did they intimately retrieve it?

    • http://defense.aol.com/ Colin Clark

      Landed at Pax Ricer, as it did after the earlier launch.

      Colin Clark
      Breaking Defense

  • disqus_sil3BY0RUj

    some have fun
    others pay

  • Colin Campbell

    IMO – they should do a few tweaks to the X-47 and make a couple of dozen. Deploy them as an operational squadron so we are learning how to use a UCAV tactically while the final version is being developed. Another thing we need to do with the UCAV program is to run a dual development program where two competing companies are given ‘seed money’ to develop an operational aircraft instead of just a prototype’ At that point the Navy decides on which one to buy.

    And lose the thousands of pages of specifications. Set general specifications such as minimum range and payload and then let the companies decide what they want to make for the fly-off competition. We need to end the ‘development hell’ that pushes up the cost and delays the introduction of new aircraft.

  • bob

    Nice. War should be easier to justify now. We don’t have to lie and have the specter of “losing american soldiers” as a consideration of war now. We can just bomb and infiltrate other countries anonymously now…..all from the control stick!


    And the old “Fly By Wire” A/C???

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Buckles/100000913763806 Dan Buckles

    If you think we are the only county with drones, you are wrong. There are 76 countries that have drone and there is now a drone manufacturing caucus in Congress now making sure the continue to produce more of them. There are done the size of huming birds now that can be programmed to track people. If the american people don’t wake up , they will soon be able to sit outside your window and spy on you, or if you are on the hit list just break through a window and come in and kill you. The military industrial complex is getting more deadly everyday. So what happens when someone uses one to blowup a nuclear plant? Times ticking people……….They are lobbying everyday our congress and that’s why we need to make lobbies illegal.

  • Hoagie58

    Oh man! When I saw “Top Gun maneuver,” I pictured a drone buzzing the tower, and the commander spilling his coffee! How disappointing!!

  • Mitchell Fuller

    All this technology is neat, until its hacked. We’ve seen what Iran was able to do with the Sentinel.

  • Kevin

    and an ocean of glass… wonder what the WEAX liimits will be for this when it’s done.

  • Al Stenzel

    Two wave offs and a bolter? Maybe tomorrow. (I just KNEW the Navy’s A-12 Avenger II would fly some day!)

    • http://defense.aol.com/ Colin Clark

      NICE! Did you see that A-12 payments “in kind” to the contractors may be approved as part of reprogramming submitted by DoD?

  • bigwingnut

    Reporters are so stupid! The drone didn’t “scoot off the back end of the Bush’s deck!” I scooted off the FRONT end of the angled deck. Are editors too expensive for Breaking Defense?

    • http://defense.aol.com/ Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

      You’re absolutely right, it came in from astern and shot off the bow — I had to watch the video again, but the island (on the starboard side of the ship) is clearly on the plane’s right. I’ve fixed the caption. I could do without the namecalling, but, more importantly, thanks pointing out the error.

  • Captain Howdy

    ATTENTION !!! Please do not let the Commander and Chief see this !! He has the attention span of a dead moth along with ADD ! This will not only distract him. He might see this and forget about sending aid to the the tornado victims. And turn his attention wasting more money building remote controls for Iron Mans. I still can’t believe a man who was born in the Philippines is snoring in the master bedroom of the White House.

  • Navy pilot 1116

    Me myself hate this idea. Navy fighter pilots are suppose to be the best of the best and now the are taking them out it’s almost like saying, ” hey here’s a tazzer, go try to kill that guy over there( about 3 miles out) with a sniper.” It makes no sense. I dought this but have any off you guys played the black ops 2 campaign? It’s about a guy that almost destroyed the U.S. Because he hacked into all the drones and turned them on us. And a drone will never, I repeat never have better reactions than a pilot. Like in the movie green lantern he out smarts the drones by stalling and then shooting them down. Like does anybody agree with me here or am I all by myself here?