The Northrop Grumman X-47B is one of the coolest military aircraft of the 21st century. It is an experimental strike and surveillance aircraft designed to perform one of the most difficult feats in aviation. This includes for instance landing and taking off from a carrier deck at sea.
But that too without a pilot. The size of X-47B is similar to a modern piloted fighter for example General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon.
However, computer controls the complete flight system of X-47B. It is designed to take-off, fly a pre-programmed mission, then return to base in response to mouse-clicks from its mission operator.
Why is X-47B the coolest military aircraft?
The Northrop Grumman X-47B is an active aircraft since February 2011, when it was first tested. The X-47B travels at just below the speed of sound.
It has an unrefueled endurance of more than six hours and an unrefueled range of over 3,890 km. With the Pentagon’s strategic policy shift to the Asia-Pacific region, Navy leaders want to ensure that aircraft carriers will be able to project power and penetrate an enemy’s airspace on the other side of the globe.
A fighter without a human pilot could be part of the solution.
With aerial refueling, the X-47B could remain on patrol at ranges well beyond 5,500 km. It can stay aloft for 50 to 100 hours — five to 10 times longer than a manned aircraft. This extended reach and ability to stay within range of its target, either for reconnaissance or attack, would allow a dispersed U.S. aircraft carrier force to apply combat power over an enormous area.