Originally Posted by YellowAircraft
I'm with Sideshow on this one. Cool as heck, but kinda scary and sobering, too. The thought of all of these weapons/defense systems going 'unmanned' is a bit unnerving to me because it feels like the fewer human beings involved, the less accountability there is. As far as what they're operational capabilities are, I've always gotten the impression that by the time the public gets its first view, the thing has likely been operational (if not obsolete) for years.
Not in this case, for this specific system. The X-47B is definitely a demonstrator aircraft, and will not be operational. the RFP for the actual operational aircraft (UCLASS) is soon to be, or maybe already has been, released. The operational aircraft will be significantly bigger than the X-47B, carry a lot more fuel, and actually be able to carry and launch weapons.
I talked to several people at NAVAIR who have worked on the X-47 and they said that one of the major goals was to identify and quantify the airframe stresses resulting on an autonomous aircraft of this type from carrier landings. Apparently, the X-47 was not built to take a major amount of carrier landings and they have proven to be more stressful than anticipated, so the test aircraft are very close to the end of their serviceable life...