'Cyborg' Arm Controls Navy's Robot Warplane

Navy Robot Warplane
The Navy's X-47B took off on a test flight from the Patuxent River base on July 29. (Image credit: U.S. Navy)

Much has changed since U.S. Navy deck controllers directed takeoffs and landings on an aircraft carrier in the 1986 film "Top Gun." A new Navy carrier drone recently began flight tests with the help of what appeared to be a cyborg — a man wearing an arm controller to maneuver the drone on deck.

The Northrop Grumman's X-47B flies without a pilot, but it's not without outside human help. Aviation Week's Ares defense blog spotted a man wearing a wireless hand controller during the drone's first East Coast flight tests from the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland on July 29.

Such a device works more like a complicated gaming joystick than an actual cybernetic implant. It gives the man — standing in as deck operator — control over the drone's ground movements so that he can maneuver it into place for a catapult takeoff on an aircraft carrier.

This hand controller allows an operator to maneuver the Navy's X-47B drone on the ground on or an aircraft carrier's deck. (Image credit: NAVAIR)

Similarly, the deck operator would take over control of the drone after it returns from a flight mission and lands on the carrier. Actual drone flight tests from the deck of an aircraft carrier are planned for 2013.

But the deck operator still watches the controllers' arm movements and directions to see where the drone should go. That means the Navy deck controllers still have a job in choreographing the chaos aboard carrier decks.

If all goes well, the X-47B could become the first combat drone to operate regularly off of aircraft carriers — ushering in the next step of modern warfare at sea.

Source: Ares (Aviation Week)

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