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Navy catapults drone from aircraft carrier

By Brad Lendon, CNN
May 15, 2013 -- Updated 2054 GMT (0454 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The launch from the USS George H.W. Bush is called a "watershed event"
  • The drone landed at an air station in Maryland after a 65-minute flight
  • The Navy hopes to land a drone on a carrier this summer

(CNN) -- The U.S. Navy has pulled off what the service's "air boss" called "a watershed event," launching a drone from an aircraft carrier.

The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator completed a catapult launch from the USS George H.W. Bush off the coast of Virginia Tuesday morning.

"Today we saw a small, but significant pixel in the future picture of our Navy as we begin integration of unmanned systems into arguably the most complex warfighting environment that exists today: the flight deck of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier," the "air boss," Vice Adm. David Buss, commander of Naval Air Forces, said in a statement.

An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator leaves the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush on Tuesday, May 14. The drone, propelled by a catapult, was the first to be launched from an aircraft carrier. An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator leaves the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush on Tuesday, May 14. The drone, propelled by a catapult, was the first to be launched from an aircraft carrier.
Drone launched from aircraft carrier
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CNN Explains: Drones

The drone landed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, after a 65-minute flight around Chesapeake Bay, the Navy said.

"The flight today demonstrated that the X-47B is capable of operation from a carrier, hand-off from one mission control station to another, flight through the national airspace, and recovery at another location without degradation in safety or precision," Matt Funk, the lead engineer for the UCAS program, said in statement.

The next milestone will be landing the craft back on the carrier as the flight deck pitches in the open sea, something onboard pilots consider one of the most difficult things they do. That may come sometime this summer, the Navy statement said.

Drone came within 200 feet of airliner in March

One state has a new law restricting drone use

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