Loyal Wingman combat drone powers up engine for the first time
The age of the unmanned combat jet is a step closer after Boeing Australia announced that its Loyal Wingman aircraft has fired up its engine for the first time. On an undisclosed date this month, the autonomous drone powered up its commercial turbofan engine in anticipation of its first test flight.
Being developed for the global defense market as well as primary customer, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Loyal Wingman is the first of three class prototypes to be built under Australia's Advanced Development Program, which aims to produce jet-powered, autonomous, artificial-intelligence-powered teaming aircraft that can fly alongside UAVs and manned combat aircraft.
The current program involves a coalition of 16 Australian industries, which are using digital engineering, advanced composite materials, and configurable sensors to build the 38-ft-long (11.7-m) drone. Once completed, the Loyal Wingman will have a range of 2,000 nm (2,301 mi, 3,704 km) and fighter-like performance.
The offensive armaments package for the Loyal Wingman has yet to be determined, but it will include electronic warfare systems and sensor packages for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions.
"This engine run gets us closer toward flying the first aircraft later this year and was successful thanks to the collaboration and dedication of our team," says Dr. Shane Arnott, program director of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System. "We’ve been able to select a very light, off-the-shelf jet engine for the unmanned system as a result of the advanced manufacturing technologies applied to the aircraft."
The video below shows Loyal Wingman bringing its engine online for the first time.