Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Boeing’s unmanned combat aircraft makes successful maiden flight

The first Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) Loyal Wingman uncrewed aircraft took to the air today.

Aerospace giant Boeing reported that a prototype of new unmanned combat aircraft has made a successful maiden flight in Australia.

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, according to a recent service news release.

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“The Loyal Wingman’s first flight is a major step in this long-term, significant project for the Air Force and Boeing Australia, and we’re thrilled to be a part of the successful test,” said Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts, RAAF Head of Air Force Capability. “The Loyal Wingman project is a pathfinder for the integration of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence to create smart human-machine teams.

“Through this project we are learning how to integrate these new capabilities to complement and extend air combat and other missions,” she said.

Following a series of taxi tests validating ground handling, navigation and control, and pilot interface, the aircraft completed a successful takeoff under its own power before flying a pre-determined route at different speeds and altitudes to verify flight functionality and demonstrate the performance of the Airpower Teaming System design.

“Boeing and Australia are pioneering fully integrated combat operations by crewed and uncrewed aircraft,” said Boeing Defense, Space & Security President and CEO Leanne Caret. “We’re honored to be opening this part of aviation’s future with the Royal Australian Air Force, and we look forward to showing others how they also could benefit from our loyal wingman capabilities.”

With support from more than 35 Australian industry teams and leveraging Boeing’s innovative processes, including model-based engineering techniques, such as a digital twin to digitally flight-test missions, the team was able to manufacture the aircraft from design to flight in three years.

This first Loyal Wingman aircraft is serving as the foundation for the Boeing Airpower Teaming System being developed for various global defense customers. The aircraft will fly alongside other platforms, using artificial intelligence to team with existing crewed and uncrewed assets to complement mission capabilities.

Additional Loyal Wingman aircraft are currently under development, with plans for teaming flights scheduled for later this year.

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Executive Editor

About this Author

Dylan Malyasov
U.S. defense journalist and commentator. Aviation photographer. Dylan leads Defence Blog's coverage of global military news, focusing on engineering and technology across the U.S. defense industry.

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