The flight took off just after 2 p.m. local time and lasted just 29 minutes, reaching an altitude of only 5,000 feet. But for designers at Northrop Grumman and the Navy, it marks an important milestone for unmanned flight. The X-47B is the precursor to what the Navy hopes will be a fleet of unmanned, combat-capable aircraft that can launch from the deck of an aircraft carrier to carry out a range of missions.
That, of course, is a big deal not just for the Navy but for the future of robotic aerial warfare, which thus far has been restricted to land-launched drones like the Predators and Reapers operating in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It’s worth noting that the X-47B is different from the secret “Beast of Kandahar” stealth drone that keeps popping up in Afghanistan—they’re easy to confuse due to a likeness in appearance. Little is known about the RQ-170 Sentinel, but we do know that it has taken to the skies before. The X-47B is just now getting wind beneath its wings, with initial carrier trials slated for sometime in 2013.
Original Article: http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2011-02/navys-x-47b-carrier-capable-stealth-uav-makes-its-first-flight