Northrop Moves 1 Step Closer to Flying a Robotic Fighter Jet

Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC  ) just moved one step closer to fielding the world's first robotic fighter jet.

On Monday, the defense contractor confirmed the results of a series of trials of its new X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System -- officially dubbed a "UCAS" and unofficially a "drone." Over the weekend, Northrop tested the robotic plane at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, having the drone demonstrate "arrested landings," in which the drone extends its landing hook to catch a heavy cable extended across the aircraft landing area. The tension in the wire brings the aircraft to a rapid and controlled stop -- the same procedure used to land an aircraft aboard an aircraft carrier.

This test was the culmination of months of similar test landings in which the drone practiced precision approaches (approaching a runway along a predefined path), touch-and-go landings (landing and taking off again without first coming to a full stop), and precision landings (landing on a predefined point).

The conclusion after all this testing? According to Northrop vice president and Navy UCAS program manager Carl Johnson, the X-47B "takes off, flies, and lands within a few feet of its predicted path."

In addition to Northrop, which is building the drone, multiple other companies shared in the weekend's success, including X-47B team partners Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT  ) , General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) , Eaton (NYSE: ETN  ) , and more than one division of aeronautical giant United Technologies (NYSE: UTX  ) . 

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