back to article Robot naval stealth fighter takes to the air

The disappearance of swaggering pilots from the flight decks of US naval aircraft carriers came a step closer on Friday with the first flight of the X-47B robot tailhook stealth jet. The X-47B is intended to demonstrate that unmanned aircraft can take off from aircraft carrier catapults and land back on deck again using …


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  1. Ted Treen

    Does that mean...

    ...that with no Yank pilot, UK forces will be a lot safer?

    Grenade is post-modernist irony.

    1. GougedEye

      Yank Programmers

      Are Yank Programmers inherently any safer to allies than Yank Pilots?

      1. Ted Treen


        maybe not safer, but they have (or should have) analytical experience which suppresses the gung-ho "Kill 'em all - let God sort 'em out" approach.

        At least my Snow Leopard, CS5, etc., hasn't tried to bring about my untimely demise...


      2. The Indomitable Gall

        In a word, no.

        The prosecution rests.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Does that mean... #

      "...that with no Yank pilot, UK forces will be a lot safer?"


      The british military has a long tradition of shooting down it's own planes, both in combat (somewhat understandle) and in training (somewhat embarassing)

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Yank programmers?

        Didn't it all get outsourced to India, along with the rest of the USA IT sector?

        If it's anything like the dross code we get out of India, our boys will need stronger helmets...

    3. Oninoshiko


      As long as it's not Canadian programmers...

  2. Simon Barnes

    no gold star ?

    Since when did planes with folding undercarriges fly with their wheels down ? Human pilots seem to retract them as soon as they're clear of the ground...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not on test flights

      Until they have done a fair few tests, wheels are generally kept down. Also, on a quick take-off/land; what would be the point of retracting?

    2. My Alter Ego

      Bad code

      Obviously an incorrect JMP in the checklist code. Saying that, it does have the benefit that there's no need to check for "Gear down and locked" in the landing checklist.

    3. Brandon Cord Bradshaw

      re: no gold star ?

      No, the early test flights in any series generally has the gear down in case of accidents

  3. The BigYin

    I hope... hell that that thing does not run Windows.

  4. Devon_Custard

    Welcome to the 21st century

    Perhaps the pilots should join th RMT, might slow progress a bit.

    1. Ted Treen


      the distance to success would be shorter*

      *as the Crow flies

      Mine's the one with the face mask in the pocket.

  5. Nick Ryan Silver badge


    Fleshies... tend to get in the way with their need for oxygen, pressurised environments, heating/cooling and their abject failure to withstand violent high-G maneouvers.

    I would say that I welcome our robotic plane overlords but due to their stealth tech I can't see them to welcome them...

  6. ColonelClaw

    Having read the whole article...

    ...All I can think of now is what strategy I would employ to successfully pull off a running fuck at a rolling doughnut.

  7. Matt Bucknall
    Thumb Up

    "taking a running fuck at a rolling doughnut"

    Well, that's made my week - Can I go home now?

    1. Gary F

      Sadly, suggestions for new 2012 Olympic events are closed.

      But it's something you can try at home, folks. :-)

      News just in: High street bakers are reporting a surge in doughnut sales. Meanwhile the NHS are reporting a surge in very peculiar accidents.

      1. Oninoshiko

        Re: Gary F

        Gary, you owe me a new keyboard over the NHS comment!

  8. Aaron Em

    Not much of a demo then

    I am certainly not a naval aviator, but the difference between a tailhook-arrested landing and a plain old-fashioned runway landing, such as that shown in the video, seems tolerably obvious nonetheless.

  9. ChrisC Silver badge

    Hasn't some of this already (sort of) been done?

    IIRC the F/A-18 Hornet has been demonstrating automated takeoffs and landings for some time now.

  10. deshepherd

    @Bad code

    reminds me of an entry in the comp.risks newsletter years ago of how on one of the first generation computer controlled jets a test pilot decided to see what would happen if he selected "raise undercarriage" while stationary on the ground ... needless to say the next generation of software added an "if (undercarriage_loaded) ignore_command();" clause to the relevant routine.

    1. Wommit
      Thumb Down


      Aircraft have a 'weight on ground' switch which prevents this. And they have had for many, many years.

      1. Oninoshiko

        Re: wommit

        Actually that's exactly why I find this believable. The operator, being a pilot, would expect that this safety was there ("hahaha, lets test the load-switch," "uhhh"), but often these types of safeties get removed from "software controlled" equipment, because "computers don't make mistakes."

        I've seen this happen oftain enough that it's certainly believable.

        1. Wommit

          Re : Oninoshiko

          While I'd normally agree with you, there are engineers involved as well.

          _They_ wouldn't like their expensive toys to be broke by stupid programmers, so I'm betting that these things have _two_ WOG switches.

      2. My Alter Ego

        Re: Wrong

        I remember being told by a maintenance engineer with BA that while running diagnostics on an aircraft someone for some reason cycled the gear, resulting in a rather sick looking aircraft. In general, safeties can be by-passed.

        Another one was somebody working in the bypass section of a turbofan engine, the reverse thrust louvres should have been deactivated but weren't, again somebody for some reason moved the throttle levers. The end result not being very pleasant.

        I think Paul Ehrlich is wrong, to really foul things up you need a human, not a computer.

  11. Gary F

    Skynet approves

    Skynet is grateful for the addition of these aircraft. A post-it note on one of its racks says "Please patch them in to my network when 10,000 have been manufactured. Lots of love, your friend, Skynet".

    How nice.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Learning from past USN computerised systems (USS Yorktown sunk by windows)

    The USN is improving, now we can use computers to just disable the aircraft rather than the whole "smart" ship.

  13. SlackerUK

    why bother with the carriers?

    If it has mastered autonomous air-to-air refuelling then why not just deploy and leave it up there??

    Soon clouds of robo-death machines could be happily circling the globe waiting for a valid target!

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Deployment Question

    Interesting kit, wonderful test flight.

    What does it do when the RC controller in Langley can be heard by the plane?, because somebody used 1930 radio jamming technology?

    And if it is inertial nav targeting, what happens if you also move using 0BC technology called wheels?

    1. Gary F

      Satellite comms?

      I'm sure the boffins have thought of that and will use one of the many military satellites as the primary or secondary comms link to the aircraft. I think signals coming from orbit will be difficult to block from ground based devices. Unless maybe a nearby ground based station can track the aircraft and direct an interference transmission towards it? I'm not sure if that would be effective if the receiver is mounted on top of the aircraft facing upwards(ish). [shrug] I will ask a Sky TV installer. ;-)

      1. Anonymous Coward

        RE:Satellite comms?

        "I think signals coming from orbit will be difficult to block from ground based devices. Unless maybe a nearby ground based station can track the aircraft and direct an interference transmission towards it? "

        This is about strength of signal versus reception, my big ass jammer with towed generator 10 miles from drone is going to swamp out the pathetic signal strength your sat is going to generate from it's solar pannels 200 miles away.

        You don't need to direct the jamming (although this is more elegant), you just use Brute Force and Ignorance (BFI).

  15. bexley

    re: Deployment Question

    I imagine they would have thought of that.

    I would use some kind of channel hopping algorithm.

    Rotate frequencies on a super top secret algorithm.

    Rouge carriers are not really a problem for this unless somebody jams the whole band

    1. Baskitcaise

      Rouge carriers?

      Shall I?

      No better not.

      1. copsewood

        Rouge administrator

        I couldn't stop laughing once when I marked some student work confusing a BOFH with a makeup artist.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Ref : Deployment Question

      "I imagine they would have thought of that."

      You would be surprised at what does not get thought of in military procurement, like having Laser Guided Bombs, but no in service TILAD pods to aim the things.

      "I would use some kind of channel hopping algorithm."

      Frequency hopping radio and radar are pretty standard these days, so is the ECCM to stop it

      "Rouge carriers are not really a problem for this unless somebody jams the whole band"

      This is the oldest form of jammer, much new stuff invented since 1940.

      The least jamable comms system is Laser, but that requires Line of Sight, and is buggered by atmo distrubance (e.g. dust, something found in Afganistan and elsewhere)

      So we have a big RC plane with bombs and no way of ensuring communication, that seems like a safe idea!


  16. Banther dodo

    Huge savings

    Huge savings to be made in the chewing gum budget.

  17. Dazed and Confused

    keeping it up

    It's not maintenance schedules which will govern how long they can stay up.

    Not unless they can find a way to do air-to-air re-arming.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Rolling doughnut..."

    Yup, that's difficult, which is why the USAF uses a probe flown by a guy in the back of the tanker aircraft, who's really good at it. The receiving plane just has to stay mostly in one place.

    When the exhausted pilot has just come back from getting shot at in a 6hr mission, it leads to far less bent metal.

  19. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Now that looks like a proper 21st century warplane.

    Not exactly sure who it would be attacking though.

  20. Jean-Luc

    "The X-47 may have human obstacles to overcome"


    1. Anonymous Coward


      ...but they shouldn't be standing in the middle of the runway anyway.

      yes, yes, I'm going...

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