Air Force lands mysterious plane

The United States Air Force’s mysterious unmanned flight successfully landed on Oct. 27 after a record-breaking 780 days in orbit. The flight was the fifth mission as part of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle experimental program, which aims to develop an efficient platform for space testing.

Officials are lauding the project as a unique collaboration with possible implications in military ventures and space research.

“This program continues to push the envelope as the world’s only reusable space vehicle. With a successful landing (on Oct. 27), the X-37B completed its longest flight to date and successfully completed all mission objectives,” said Randy Walden, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director, in a press release by the Air Force News Service. “This mission successfully hosted Air Force Research Laboratory experiments, among others, as well as providing a ride for small satellites.”

The Air Force Research Laboratory controls the technological research budget for the Air Force, develops aerospace warfighting devices and furthers the cyberspace forces of the U.S. However, exact details about the nature of the X-37B spacecraft missions are classified.

Many approve of advancements in military technology and believe that Americans should support new projects.

“Military technology has given us a lot of important civilian innovations in the past. For example, GPS wasn’t created for civilian usage at first,” said Advika Kumar, an Early College student. “Therefore, it is important to continue to support technological innovation.”

With the current enmity between the United States and countries like Russia and China, some are also concerned about the message that military tech testing could be sending.

“We need to remain aware of the current political climate when it comes to testing new technology,” Kumar said. “There are a lot of elevated tensions between different countries.”

Others believe that government spending could be allocated more usefully and larger funds could be provided to organizations outside of the U.S. military.

“People are always wanting to push into space, except for the government,” said Le Bui, a Guilford student. “The government is defunding NASA, which is ironic because NASA is behind the majority of the most significant technological advances for America since its conception.”

The X-37B arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility and initially took off from the same base at the beginning of the mission.

“The safe return of this spacecraft, after breaking its own endurance record, is the result of the innovative partnership between government and industry,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said in the Air Force News Service press release.

“The sky is no longer the limit for the Air Force and, if Congress approves, the U.S. Space Force,” Goldfein said.

The vehicle is just one of at least two reusable planes that are part of the program. Both vessels are solar powered and were built by Boeing, initially designed to spend 240 days in orbit.

The sixth X-37B mission is set to launch in 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.


Editor’s note: This story originally was published in Volume 106, Issue 5 of The Guilfordian on Nov. 8 2019.