Boeing has announced that its Loyal Wingman-type unmanned aircraft project achieved a significant milestone.
According to a company news release, the Australian division of Boeing has expanded its flight-test program of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System, with two aircraft successfully completing separate flight missions at the Woomera Range Complex recently.
The first Loyal Wingman aircraft developed with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) demonstrated a range of key characteristics during the test flights to continue to expand the flight envelope. A second aircraft also successfully completed its first flight mission.
“It is so exciting seeing two aircraft in the air as the Loyal Wingman continues to excel in the flight-test program,” said Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts, RAAF Head of Air Force Capability. “This opens up significant capability agility for Air Force, particularly with features such as the reconfigurable nose.”
“We’re heavily engaged in the payload development and the element of surprise that it gives us in the battlespace. You never really know what’s in the nose,” said AVM Roberts.
Throughout the flight test missions, teams gathered aircraft performance data to be used to inform and refine the digital twin of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System, known as the Loyal Wingman, with the view to accelerating the aircraft’s development where possible.
“The Loyal Wingman uses on-board autonomous command-and-control technology, tested both in the lab and in the field,” Air Vice Marshal Roberts said.
“The team has tested the mission system in the lab by flying a live, digital copy of the entire aircraft design thousands of times.
“This advances the aircraft’s ‘brain’ before we hit the flight range.”
Director Boeing Airpower Teaming System – Australia and International Glen Ferguson provided some insight on the work that went into achieving the milestones, but pointed out there was more work ahead for the project.
“We’re in a steady rhythm of flight testing that will continue throughout the year on the way to mission and operational testing, enabling Boeing Australia, RAAF and our Australian industry team of more than 35 companies to progressively advance the flight characteristics and capabilities of the uncrewed teaming system,” Mr Ferguson said.
“This latest test block had significant involvement from key partners.
“RUAG Australia supplied the landing-gear systems and BAE Systems Australia were integral to supporting the flight control and navigation systems testing.”
The Loyal Wingman program has also been enabled by significant internal partnerships.
“We have had deep involvement from DSTG [Defence Science and Technology Group], CASG [Defence’s Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group], Defence Export Office, Defence and Air Force legal teams, Air Force Headquarters, Air Warfare Centre, No. 20 Squadron, and No. 32 Squadron – the program has been significantly enriched through broad internal engagement,” Air Vice Marshal Roberts said.
“So many have been working to achieve these milestones for a long time, and I want to thank them for their efforts.
“Being the first is never easy – there are so many unknowns to charter, so many hurdles to jump and so many paths to define.
“This is particularly the case for the Loyal Wingman as a pathfinder for the integration of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence to create smart human-machine teams.
“The upside of being first is that you get to experience the rush of seeing your hard work lift off to the skies.”