Wired’s Danger Room blog takes a close look at the X-47B, the Navy’s new drone that prompted many calls about a ‘UFO’ when it was trucked to its new home at Naval Air Station Patuxent River Maryland.
First impression: It’s a lot bigger than the photos and music videos have made it out to be. Its 62.1 feet of bat-shaped wingspan look even larger in person. When it stands on its landing gear, you get the sense that a human being could actually crawl into the X-47B — they’d need a ladder — even though that would defeat the purpose. After all, the X-47B is designed to be one of the most autonomous drones the U.S. military has.
The idea behind UCLASS — of which the X-47B is merely the demonstration model — involves doing away with the joysticks and computer banks that most remote operators use to control their drones. Instead, Northrop’s proprietary software lets drone pilots program where they want the drone to fly. Then they can go get a sandwich. “It’s smart enough for you to put really interesting contingencies” in the X-47B’s way, says Capt. Jaime Engdahl, the Navy’s program manager for its flying drones. “It has the smarts to react to that condition.”