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Northrop Moves 1 Step Closer to Flying a Robotic Fighter Jet

By Rich Smith – May 6, 2013 at 4:56PM

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First step: Make sure it can land again in one piece.

Northrop Grumman (NOC 3.27%) 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 (LMT 3.48%), General Electric (GE 2.73%), Eaton (ETN 3.32%), and more than one division of aeronautical giant United Technologies (RTX 1.53%)

Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Electric, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Northrop Grumman Corporation Stock Quote
Northrop Grumman Corporation
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General Electric Company Stock Quote
General Electric Company
GE
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Raytheon Technologies Corporation Stock Quote
Raytheon Technologies Corporation
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Lockheed Martin Corporation Stock Quote
Lockheed Martin Corporation
LMT
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Eaton Corporation plc Stock Quote
Eaton Corporation plc
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