The U.S. Navy made history yesterday (May 14th) by launching an unmanned jet from an aircraft carrier for the first time in what Rear Admiral Ted Branch, the Atlantic naval air commander, described as "a marker . . . between naval aviation as we've known it and the future of naval aviation."

The X-47B stealth drone was launched from the USS George H.W. Bush near the coast of Virginia and flew a series of programmed maneuvers around the ship before heading to a Naval air station in Maryland for landing.

It's set to undergo two weeks of testing on the carrier, leading up to a landing on the ship.

Because of the stealth potential and extended range of the X-47B and its successors, they are seen as a potential answer to the threat from medium-range anti-ship missiles developed by China and India. Those missiles would force U.S. aircraft carriers to operate so far from shore that piloted aircraft would have to undergo refueling to carry out missions, leaving them vulnerable to attack. The unmanned jet won't have the same problem, because it has a much longer range.