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Bat-winged drone bomber in test flight: US Navy

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An artist's conception of the X-47B long-range unmanned aerial vehicle on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.

LOS ANGELES (AFP): A robotic, bat-winged bomber designed to take off from a US aircraft carrier has passed its first test in a debut flight in California, the US Navy said Sunday.

The X-47B jet, which looks like a smaller version of the B-2 stealth bomber, stayed in the air for 29 minutes and climbed to 5,000 feet in a test flight on Friday at Edwards Air Force Base, according to the Navy and defence contractor Northrop Grumman.

Military leaders see the plane as part of a new generation of drones that would be able to evade radar and fly at much faster speeds than the current fleet of propeller-driven Predators and Reapers used in the war in Afghanistan.

"Today we got a glimpse towards the future as the Navy's first-ever tailless, jet-powered unmanned aircraft took to the skies," Captain Jaime Engdahl, a program manager for the warplane, said in a statement.

Northrop is building the navy bomber under a USD 636 million contract awarded in 2007.

With no pilot on board, the experimental aircraft was operated by a joint Navy and Northrop team on the ground.

The plane "flew a racetrack pattern over the dry lakebed with standard-rate turns," the Navy said.

It will be years before the X-47B joins the naval air fleet, with the first tests on a carrier scheduled for 2013, Northrop said in a release.

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