No pilot, no problem

The experimental X-47B pilotless plane in development for the Navy will fly from aircraft carriers. It is being used to demonstrate how unmanned systems can be integrated with traditional carrier operations. How the plane will land:

On approach
Just before touchdown
Hooking an arrestor wire
After landing

X-47B features

The Navy and contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. are using the X-47B to demonstrate the ability of a pilotless plane to land on an aircraft carrier underway at sea.


High subsonic


More than 40,000 feet


62.1 feet


More than 2,400 miles


More than 6 hours without refueling


Can carry 4,500 pounds of ordnance

On approach

About five miles from landing, the plane begins to process ship position and deck motion data more than 100 times a second and continues to do so during approach.

Just before touchdown

A landing signals officer monitors the approach and can wave off the landing with a hand-held device; plane makes another approach.

Hooking an arrestor wire

Plane lands within a foot of deck’s center line; if it misses arresting wire, it lifts off the deck and reenters the landing pattern.

After landing

After the landing, an aircraft handler directs the plane, and a deck operator with a wireless device taxis it out of the landing area.