It’s not often that we get to witness aviation history being made, but the U.S. Navy’s X-47B just became the first unmanned aircraft to land on an aircraft carrier.
Remember the Science fiction film The Terminator? The film is set in the year 2029, where artificially intelligent machines attempt to exterminate what is left of the human race. In the film, the HK-Drone, also known as T-1 Aerial is designed by Cyberdyne Research Systems to be an unmanned aerial weapons systems. As thousands were produced, when Skynet came on line, it immediately had access to a small army of sophisticated tactical air craft.
However, reality is finally starting to catch up with ficition. The US Navy has just launched an unmanned drone which is the same size as a jet fighter. The vessel was launched from the deck of a US carrier and landed safely at the Maryland Naval Air Station.
The drone called X-47B is the first drone designed by the US Navy to take off and land on a carrier. This launch was meant to test whether the aircraft can safely take off from a moving carrier. It used a steam catapult to take off exactly like fighter jets do. The greatest challenge was to program the drone to land on a moving carrier. Landing on a moving object is quite difficult, even for navy pilots. Programming a drone to it safely was even more difficult, especially due to its size. The X-47B has a wingspan of 19 meters, and weighs 6,350 kg. It can climb up to 12,000 meters and can travel more than 3,890 km in distance. That’s essentially a large truck.
The X-47B drone is nothing like the other drones used by the US. Drones called Predators and Reapers are generally used to gather intelligence and execute missile attacks. The X-47B will be used to gather intelligence, perform surveillance and targeting, but it will also be used as a bomb carrier. Even though many critics are against unmanned drones used for warfare, many US analysts believe that they are the future of war.
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.
However, a recent report from the United Nations Human Rights Commission suggests that weapons systems that can attack targets without any human input need to be regulated.
The report — which was debated at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on May 29 — states that the United States, Israel, the United Kingdom, South Korea and Japan all possess lethal robots that are either fully or semi-autonomous.
Some of these machines — or “lethal autonomous robotics” (LARS), as they are called in the report — can allegedly choose and execute their own targets without human input. According to a new draft UN report, killer robots that can attack targets without any human input “should not have the power of life and death over human beings”.
Report author Christof Heyns, a South African professor of human rights law, calls for a worldwide moratorium on the “testing, production, assembly, transfer, acquisition, deployment and use” of killer robots until an international conference can develop rules for their use.
You can read more by going to: https://artselectronic.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/lars-lethal-autonomous-robotics/