The unmanned X-47B, the future of U.S. Navy aviation, recently underwent a series of critical flight tests from the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt off the Virginia coast. For the first time, the drone operated amid manned F-18 warplanes using the carrier at the same time, a key step toward integrating such robotcraft into naval aviation. The tests follow up on last year’s first-ever X-47B flights to and from a carrier. TIME worked with artist Richard Mosse who traveled to an aircraft carrier at an undisclosed location in the Atlantic Ocean to shoot footage of this drone being tested.
Without carrying a crew and all the life-support gear it requires, aircraft like the Northrop X-47B will be able to fly further—and without the risks of death, wounding or capture associated with dispatching manned warplanes on combat missions. Such longer-legged drones could permit their mother ships to stay beyond the range of enemy missiles and fighter aircraft and keep carriers—the heart and soul of today’s U.S. Navy—relatively safe for decades to come.—Mark Thompson
Director, Producer: Richard Mosse
Cinematographer, Editor, Post: Trevor Tweeten
Sound recordist, Composer, Sound design: Ben Frost