Note to the Navy: When trucking a giant flying robot with a rounded fuselage across the country, people are going to think they’re looking at an artifact from Area 51.
As the local news coverage above shows, residents of Cowley County, Kansas, were freaked out to see a truck rumbling down U.S. 77 towing what looks a whole lot like a 32-foot spaceship. “People were calling in saying, ‘Oh they think they found a flying saucer,’” Donetta Godsey of the Winfield Daily Courier told the ABC News affiliate.
Alas, the cargo wasn’t anything otherworldly. Just a trussed-up, wingless version of the Navy’s futuristic killer drone, the X-47B, which the Navy hopes will one day be the world’s first robot capable of landing on an aircraft carrier. For the past few days, it’s hitched a rather terrestrial ride from California’s Edwards Air Force Base to Patuxent River, Maryland.
“Oh, you mean the UFO?” Brooks McKinney, a spokesman for X-47B manufacturer Northrop Grumman, told Danger Room.
McKinney’s both embarrassed and amused by the UFO confusion. “They effectively shrink-wrapped the rest of the fuselage after taking the wings off the drone for the cross-country trek,” he said. “Because it was 32 feet wide, it could only travel certain hours of the day because we blocked off the road. That led to lots of weird stories, like we had abandoned [the X-47B] on the side of the road.”
The X-47B arrived safely at Pax River, the Navy’s big aviation testbed, on Tuesday. There, it’ll undergo tests to ensure it can perform its signature intended maneuver: taking off and landing on an aircraft carrier — and with those complex maneuvers eventually directed by a mere mouse click.
But that’s a long way off. During the last year at Edwards, the X-47B had its first flight — there’s even a music video to commemorate the moment — after years of development that almost didn’t bear fruit. Still, the drone isn’t expected to actually join the Navy’s fleet of aircraft until 2018.
And when it does, it might still get mistaken for a UFO.
“When we first saw it with its wheels up, it had kind of that dreamy spaceship look anyway, so it’s kinda cool,” McKinney said. “If we were really smart we would have rigged it up with purple lights that blink and pulsate.”