Salty Dog 501 and 502 sit silent in their hangars, their expected contributions to naval aviation unfulfilled. Before the Navy spends time and money ginning up another expensive new UAV, it should put its X-47Bs back to work.
Authorized for construction in 2007, the X-47B prototypes represent a billion-dollar investment by naval aviation to investigate how unmanned aircraft can be integrated into aircraft carrier operations. Their glory days included the first autonomous landing on an aircraft carrier and the first mid-air refueling by an unmanned aerial vehicle, and with just 80 percent of their designed flying lives expended, the two airframes were slated for yet more pioneering tests. Instead, naval aviation leaders have consigned the X-47B to museums, even as they struggle to define the next step in unmanned carrier aviation.
To read the full op-ed, visit the Defense One website.