Boeing [BA] and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) conducted the first flight test of the company’s Loyal Wingman prototype drone on Feb. 27 in Australia, the company said on March 2.
Boeing’s Airpower Teaming System (ATS) design for Loyal Wingman is also a candidate for the U.S. Air Force’s Skyborg low-cost attritable demonstrator–one of three Air Force Vanguard programs to speed the fielding of advanced technologies.
“The flight of the first military aircraft to be designed and manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years flew under the supervision of a Boeing test pilot monitoring the aircraft from a ground control station at the Woomera Range Complex,” Boeing said on March 2.
Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts, RAAF head of Air Force Capability, said in a Boeing-issued statement that “the Loyal Wingman project is a pathfinder for the integration of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence to create smart human-machine teams.”
Boeing officials declined to disclose details of the flight, including top speed and altitude, in a question and answer session with reporters on March 2, but Boeing said that the testing involved “a series of taxi tests validating ground handling, navigation and control, and pilot interface,” followed by take-off and the aircraft “flying a pre-determined route at different speeds and altitudes to verify flight functionality and demonstrate the performance of the Airpower Teaming System design.”
Loyal Wingman is to be a reduced radar cross section (RCS) unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) flying at high-subsonic or low-supersonic speeds and providing support to manned fighters via the UCAV’s weapons and data sharing.
The United Kingdom is also looking at such a manned-unmanned concept through its Project Mosquito, and the French and German governments are examining the concept as well for the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program. The concepts may involve a swarm of lighter UCAVs working in tandem with fighter aircraft.
38 feet long and having a 24 feet wingspan and a more than 2,000 nautical mile range, per Boeing, Loyal Wingman has a commercial turbofan engine and a detachable nose to carry sensors and electronic warfare equipment.
“One of the things we’re especially interested in is the unique feature the ATS system brings to the table with regard to our ability to customize the aircraft for unique Department of Defense or other global customer mission needs through the modular nose and other system capabilities that the system has,” Jerad Hayes, Boeing Defense Systems’ senior director of autonomous aviation and technology, told reporters on March 2.
Shane Arnott, Boeing’s ATS program director, would not specify weapons and other payloads that Boeing envisions for ATS but said that the company has “multiple payloads in development” for possible ATS customers.
Thus far, Boeing is on contract to build six of the aircraft for Australia for $121 million.
“This first Loyal Wingman aircraft is serving as the foundation for the Boeing Airpower Teaming System being developed for various global defense customers,” Boeing said on March 2. “The aircraft will fly alongside other platforms, using artificial intelligence to team with existing crewed and uncrewed assets to complement mission capabilities.”
Last November, Boeing announced the first flight of subscale ATS test aircraft (Defense Daily, Nov. 18, 2020).