Maverick and Goose are missing!
The Navy is rapidly moving forward in its testing of the Boeing X-47B stealth fighter/attack demonstrator aircraft. This next generation machine is destined to operate from our carriers in the future, alongside the current F-18s and (maybe) future F-35s.
Catapult tests have recently started at NAS Pax River. Landing tests have been underway for some time. One example of the jet was just placed aboard the USS Harry Truman for deck handling tests. I have not seen a schedule for actual launch and recovery tests on the carrier yet.
OK ... its a new airplane. So what, you might ask.
There's nobody in it.
It's a UCAS ... Unmanned Combat Air System ... drone ...
Yes, the United States Navy is planning on operating unmanned jet attack aircraft from our carriers. This is not a surveillance aircraft that is supposed to putt-putt around in circles way up high using its cameras to spy on bad guys. This thing is intended to carry weapons and attack the bad guys, much the same way our manned fighters do.
You know, drones have come a long way. The technology needed to operate one of these from the deck of a ship is way beyond that needed for land base operations. If I'm a Deck Boss, Air Boss, Captain, or anyone stationed anywhere near the flight deck of a carrier that has these things on it, I'm going to be more concerned with keeping myself alive than doing my actual job.
Accidents in carrier operations are more frequent than most folks know about. Lots of airplanes get damaged or destroyed, lots of folks get hurt, and a few die. That's normal for the beast. I just am concerned about how those accident rates my go way up in the days of mixed drone/manned aircraft operations. I wouldn't want to be on deck for that first cruise!
Photos credit US Navy.