The U.S. Navy has pulled off what the service's "air boss" called "a watershed event," launching a drone from an aircraft carrier.
The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator completed a catapult launch from the USS George H.W. Bush off the coast of Virginia Tuesday morning.
"Today we saw a small, but significant pixel in the future picture of our Navy as we begin integration of unmanned systems into arguably the most complex warfighting environment that exists today: the flight deck of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier," the "air boss," Vice Adm. David Buss, commander of Naval Air Forces, said in a statement.
The drone landed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, after a 65-minute flight around Chesapeake Bay, the Navy said.
"The flight today demonstrated that the X-47B is capable of operation from a carrier, hand-off from one mission control station to another, flight through the national airspace, and recovery at another location without degradation in safety or precision," Matt Funk, the lead engineer for the UCAS program, said in statement.
The next milestone will be landing the craft back on the carrier as the flight deck pitches in the open sea, something onboard pilots consider one of the most difficult things they do. That may come sometime this summer, the Navy statement said.