For Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC ) , 2013 is turning into a year of firsts.
In May, the defense contractor's X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator successfully conducted the first-ever launch from the deck of a moving aircraft carrier. Yesterday, it made the first-ever landing.
In a joint press release Wednesday, the U.S. Navy and Northrop Grumman described how the Northrop Grumman-built aircraft landed on the deck of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) off the coast of Virginia at 12:23 p.m. -- sans pilot. Launched from Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland earlier in the day, the X-47B was remotely piloted by a mission operator aboard the carrier, flown 35 minutes to its target, there made several planned precision approaches, and then made an arrested landing safely on the carrier deck.
In so doing, in the words of Navy UCAS program manager Capt. Jaime Engdahl, the plane proved "beyond a shadow of a doubt, that tailless unmanned aircraft can integrate seamlessly and operate safely from an aircraft carrier at sea."