April 28, 2015

Scharre: Protect the X-47B to safeguard innovation

By Paul Scharre

Last week, the Navy made aviation history for the second time in two years by accomplishing yet another first for unmanned aircraft: a fully autonomous aerial refueling.

This comes on the heels of the Navy's historic landing of a fully autonomous unmanned aircraft, the X-47B, on an aircraft carrier in 2013. To capitalize on these successes, the Navy plans to next retire the unmanned aircraft - built by Northrop Grumman - and stick them in a museum.

It's the equivalent of the Wright brothers' following up their historic flight at Kitty Hawk by burning their airplane to the ground.... If the Wright brothers' plane had cost $800 million of U.S. taxpayer money and had only expended 20 percent of its service life.

The Navy's explanation for why it plans to retire the two experimental X-47B aircraft, Salty Dog 501 & 502, is that its demonstration plan is complete. But that's only because the Navy has decided to call it quits. Important work remains ahead.

Read the full op-ed at The Pilot Online.

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