By Clay Dillow
The Navy’s X-47B unmanned combat jet captured headlines and imaginations earlier this summer when it took off and then landed on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. George H.W. Bush. The event marked the first time an unmanned, autonomous aircraft has pulled off such a feat. In doing so, the sleek, stealthy, robotic X-47B ginned up a great deal of hype and speculation surrounding the future of naval aviation and the role these aircraft — still in their prototype phase — might play in future conflicts.
But meanwhile, the more immediate future of unmanned, autonomous maritime aviation — and a critical piece of the U.S. military’s “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region — is shaping up in Palmdale, Calif., where the Navy’s MQ-4C Triton completed its fourth successful test flight last week. Autonomous aircraft plying the skies over the world’s oceans are closer than many might think.