Second Loyal Wingman combat drone takes to the air for the first time
Boeing's Loyal Wingman prototype combat drone reached a new milestone as two of the autonomous aircraft took to the skies recently in separate flights over the Woomera Range Complex in Australia. This marks the first time that the second drone has flown and the first time the landing gear on the craft was raised and engaged.
Making its first flight on February 27, 2021, the Loyal Wingman is being developed for and in partnership with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) along with 35 private companies. The recent tests are significant not only because the prototype fleet is growing, but also because it lays the foundation for demonstrating how such drones can work as part of a team.
The Loyal Wingman's development and production are accelerated by the use of a digital twin that is refined as aircraft performance data is collected during the test flights to expand its performance envelope. In line with Australian defense policy, the development and production of the craft is based as much in Australia as possible. When manufacturing begins, it will be offered on the global market.
The jet-powered drone is designed to work in concert with other RAAF combat aircraft, including the F-35A, F/A-18F, and E-7A in both defense and surveillance modes. It has flight characteristics comparable to a conventional fighter and boasts artificial intelligence and a modular design. This includes a reconfigurable nose that can quickly accommodate a variety of payloads.
"It is so exciting seeing two aircraft in the air as the Loyal Wingman continues to excel in the flight-test program," says Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts, RAAF Head of Air Force Capability. "This opens up significant capability agility for the 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 battle space. You never really know what’s in the nose."