NORFOLK (AP) -- The Navy Tuesday successfully launched an unmanned aircraft from the deck of an aircraft carrier for the first time.

The X-47B is about the size of a traditional fighter plane. It can reach an altitude of more than 40,000 feet and has a range of more than 2,100 nautical miles.

It catapulted off the flight deck of the Norfolk-based USS George H.W. Bush in the Atlantic Ocean.

The plane isn't intended for operational use, but it will be used to help develop other unmanned, carrier-based aircraft.

Navy officials say the planes will provide around-the-clock carrier-based intelligence, surveillance and targeting capabilities.

The plane made a series of approaches toward the aircraft carrier before landing at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland an hour later.

In December 2012, an X-47B taxied on the flight deck of Norfolk-based USS Harry S. Truman. It was the first time a carrier was used for test operations.

Northrop Grumman says the X-47B is a computer-controlled unmanned aircraft system that takes off, flies a pre-programmed mission, then returns to base in response to mouse clicks from its mission operator.

Click here to learn more about the X-47B unmanned aircraft program.

AP-WF-05-14-13 0752GMT

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