|Prototype X-47B Navy unmannded jet AFP/Jim Watson|
LOS ANGELES (AFP) – A robotic, bat-winged bomber designed to take off from a US aircraft carrier has passed its first test in a debut flight in California, the US Navy said.
The X-47B jet, which looks like a smaller version of the B-2 stealth bomber, stayed in the air for 29 minutes and climbed to 5,000 feet in a test flight on Friday at Edwards Air Force Base, according to the Navy and defense contractor Northrop Grumman.
Military leaders see the plane as part of a new generation of drones that would be able to evade radar and fly at much faster speeds than the current fleet of propeller-driven Predators and Reapers used in the war in Afghanistan.
“Today we got a glimpse towards the future as the Navy’s first-ever tailless, jet-powered unmanned aircraft took to the skies,” Captain Jaime Engdahl, a program manager for the warplane, said in a statement.
Northrop is building the navy bomber under a $636 million contract awarded in 2007.
With no pilot on board, the experimental aircraft was operated by a joint Navy and Northrop team on the ground.
The plane “flew a racetrack pattern over the dry lakebed with standard-rate turns,” the Navy said.
It will be years before the X-47B joins the naval air fleet, with the first tests on a carrier scheduled for 2013, Northrop said in a release.