Loyal Wingman combat drone makes first flight
Boeing's Loyal Wingman combat drone has completed its first flight in the skies over the Woomera Range Complex in Australia. The successful flight was followed by the announcement that the Australian government has ordered three more prototype aircraft.
The first flight of the autonomous jet aircraft, which is a joint project of Boeing Australia and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), is the culmination of three years development from initial design to flying prototype. It comes on the heels of a series of ground tests, including powering up its engines and taxiing to validate the Wingman's ground handling, navigation and control, and the pilot interface.
Though the flight was autonomous, the Loyal Wingman, also known as the Airpower Teaming system (ATS), operated under the supervision of a human pilot from a ground control station at Woomera. During the flight, the drone took off under its own power and flew a predetermined course at various speeds and altitudes as engineers monitored its performance.
These flight tests will be followed later this year with teaming flight tests. The function of the Loyal Wingman is to carry out both single missions and to work as part of a team with other crewed or uncrewed aircraft. As such, it is designed to have performance and range comparable to that of a conventional fighter aircraft.
After the test flight, the Australian government announced that it has ordered three more prototypes to further develop the aircraft as well as its payloads and support and training functions. The new contract is valued at US$115 million dollars over the next three years and will fund ways to support the Loyal Wingman in operations and develop its more advanced concepts through digital testing, including its artificial intelligence system.
"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," says 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."
The video below shows the first flight of the Loyal Wingman.