Boeing achieved an important milestone in the development of its Phantom Ray unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) on November 18, when it successfully completed low-speed taxi tests on a runway at Lambert International Airport in St. Louis, Missouri.

According to Craig Brown, Phantom Ray program manager for Boeing, Phantom Ray "communicated with the ground control station, received its orders and made its way down the runway multiple times, allowing us to assess its performance and monitor the advanced systems on board.”

Phantom Ray is built upon knowledge gained in the shelved X-45 project, in which the X-45A UAV completed 64 flights between 2002 and 2005. That plane achieved the first precision weapons demonstration by an unmanned combat system, and the first autonomous multivehicle flight under the control of a single pilot. Phantom Ray is based on the larger, fighter-sized X-45C, which made it no farther than the mock-up stage.

The new UAV will now travel to Edwards Air Force Base in California, riding atop one of NASA’s modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Once at Edwards, it will undergo high-speed taxi tests, before finally taking its first flight. Its flight test period is expected to last six months.

Phantom Ray is designed for missions that could include intelligence-gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance, suppression of enemy air defenses, electronic attack, strike, and autonomous aerial refueling. The St. Louis taxi tests were the first to be conducted on the UAV, since its rollout ceremony in May.

View gallery - 2 images