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Boeing Phantom Ray  (Source: Boeing)

  (Source: Boeing)
Additional test flights to take place of the next few weeks

Boeing first unveiled a near-complete version of its Phantom Ray unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) nearly a year ago. This week, the company announced that its Phantom Ray has completed its first flight.  

The first flight lasted for 17 minutes during which the Phantom Ray reached a maximum altitude of 7,500 feet and a top speed of 178 knots. 

The program is being completely funded by Boeing, and the first test flight's primary goals were to test fight characteristics of the aircraft. The company also notes that future mission parameters for the aircraft could include strike operations and autonomous in-air refueling. 

The Boeing Phantom Ray is 36 feet long and has a wingspan of 50 feet. The maximum takeoff weight for the aircraft is 36,500 pounds and is powered by a single GE F404-GE-102D engine.

"Autonomous, fighter-sized unmanned aircraft are real," said Phantom Ray program manager Craig Brown. "The UAS bar has been raised. Now I’m eager to see how high that bar will go."



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Stealth?
By aliasfox on 5/5/2011 9:22:53 AM , Rating: 1
I'm curious - my understanding of UAVs as they stand right now are that they fly low and slow over the area that they're reconnoitering (is that the right word?). In which case, wouldn't the sight of a UAV give its location away? Stealth would prevent radar lock, but it wouldn't necessarily prevent a heat-seeking missile from locking onto the engine's signature.

Also, if a stealth UAV were to be shot down, wouldn't the wreckage still have to be destroyed to prevent the technology from falling into the hands of others? On the other hand, if a Predator gets shot down, there's probably not much that needs to be destroyed there.




RE: Stealth?
By Obliterator on 5/5/2011 10:27:53 AM , Rating: 5
"I'm curious - my understanding of UAVs as they stand right now are that they fly low and slow over the area that they're reconnoitering (is that the right word?)."

Not necessarily. For instance, the Global Hawk UAV (the largest flying) flies at altitudes above 60,000 feet and uses long-range sensors to gather intelligence.

"In which case, wouldn't the sight of a UAV give its location away?"

The other thing you're not grasping is the primary use of this aircraft will be as a bomber, not for gathering intelligence (though it may do that well also).

This aircraft is much faster than a Predator, probably flying around 600 MPH during strikes.

"Stealth would prevent radar lock, but it wouldn't necessarily prevent a heat-seeking missile from locking onto the engine's signature."

If you look at the engine exhaust on this aircraft, you'll note it has stealth features - a rectangular nozzle to minimize optical depth of the plume, and a "shelf" underneath to shield hot engine parts from ground observation.

Regardless, the optimum conditions for this plane to bomb will be in overcast, where the plane can literally hide in the clouds. There is no need for the UAV to "see" the target if it is using JDAMS GPS guided technology.

The only difference (and advantage) of this system compared to a cruise missile is that the only thing expended during a strike is an inexpensive bomb, rather than a $1 million missile.


RE: Stealth?
By corduroygt on 5/5/2011 11:04:51 AM , Rating: 1
This aircraft looks like it's going to make our 21 multibillion dollar B-2's obsolete, since you can make a lot of them cheaply and replace any losses much easier.


RE: Stealth?
By 91TTZ on 5/5/2011 11:38:37 AM , Rating: 1
quote:
This aircraft looks like it's going to make our 21 multibillion dollar B-2's obsolete, since you can make a lot of them cheaply and replace any losses much easier.


This thing is the size of a fighter, not a bomber. So it's not going to have the range or payload capacity to do the B-2's job.

Also, the B-2 is not a multibillion dollar aircraft. I know that number is thrown around a lot, but that is the amortized cost and not the cost of the aircraft. Imagine if you headed a program to design an inexpensive "world car" like the Ford Focus. If you spent $1 billion of the program and had the cost of the car down to $5,000 each, your amortized cost would depend on the number sold. If you only made 1,000 of them and the program was canceled your amortized cost would be $1,005,000 each. It doesn't mean that the car itself was expensive, it just means that the price wasn't spread out among many vehicles.

For the B-2 program, the program cost $44.75 billion and only 21 were eventually made. So that made the amortized cost of them over $2 billion, but really the aircraft only cost about $750 million to produce. To put this in comparison, a Boeing 777 costs about $200 million a piece.

This Phantom Ray aircraft is the only one flying in a program that most likely costs well over a billion dollars. So you could say that this is a multibillion dollar aircraft as well.


RE: Stealth?
By corduroygt on 5/5/2011 11:50:32 AM , Rating: 2
I know about program development costs and amortizing, you really didn't need to explain that, but thanks.

In the end, we the tax payers paid $44 billion and got only 21 aircraft (I think one crashed). $44B would have bought 44000 cruise missiles at $1M apiece, which is more destructive power than 21 B-2's would deliver in their lifetime before their airframes wore out or they were shot down.

The Phantom Ray is very unlikely to be cancelled after a short production run since everyone is in favor of UAV's, so it's going to be much much cheaper. It also won't have a flyaway cost of $750B and require its own climate controlled hangar and extensive maintenance like the B-2.

It's far cheaper to go with these UAV's and use cruise missiles for longer range rather than paying for the development of a new stealth bomber. The B-2 will never have a successor that's comparable in size and stealth.


RE: Stealth?
By ekv on 5/5/2011 2:00:08 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
before their airframes wore out or they were shot down.
Keep in mind the B-52 is still flying. [Introduced Feb. 1955, older than me, almost as old as you].
quote:
The B-2 will never have a successor that's comparable in size and stealth.
Which is why you have a B-2. It's the mission it fulfills. Whatever happens, communications breakdown, etc., you've got a guy in the cockpit ready, willing and able to make the decision. Expensive? yep.

A curious note, you've seen f-22 knock-offs from the Chinese and Russians. Have you seen any B-2 knock-offs?

Lastly, I would also argue that UCAV's (like the Phantom Ray) have a greater variety of missions they can fulfill than, say, a B-2. But does that mean they are always the right tool for the job?


RE: Stealth?
By 91TTZ on 5/5/2011 3:18:43 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I know about program development costs and amortizing, you really didn't need to explain that, but thanks.


We're not the only ones reading this thread.

quote:
In the end, we the tax payers paid $44 billion and got only 21 aircraft (I think one crashed). $44B would have bought 44000 cruise missiles at $1M apiece, which is more destructive power than 21 B-2's would deliver in their lifetime before their airframes wore out or they were shot down.


What, the development and upkeep of the cruise missiles was free? Hell, if you're going to do that, then give me 40+ B-2's with that money.

quote:
which is more destructive power than 21 B-2's would deliver in their lifetime before their airframes wore out or they were shot down.


The B-2 is a long range stealth bomber meant for penetrating advanced air defenses. Cruise missiles are not intended for that role. Cruise missiles can only fly about 1,300 miles while the B-2's range is 6,000 miles. If your target is 5,000 miles away, you're going to find that you have a bunch of cruise missiles that can't reach the target.

These are different weapons meant for different missions. You use the right tool for the job. If you need a large hole dug, would it help you if I gave you 11 rakes for the price of 5 shovels?


RE: Stealth?
By erple2 on 5/5/2011 5:36:21 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
If your target is 5,000 miles away, you're going to find that you have a bunch of cruise missiles that can't reach the target.


I think you'll also find that no B-2 can do that, as no pilot would fly a round-trip mission 10,000 miles long when you can't refuel, given your plane can only go 6000 miles.

Unless the target is really only about 2500 miles away from the nearest "friendly" refueling capability. In which case, if the range of a cruise missile was about 2500 miles, you'd be golden, too.


RE: Stealth?
By chiadog on 5/5/2011 11:44:43 PM , Rating: 2
In air refuelling? Just top off the tanks few thousand miles out from the target, and the same on the way back. The range is limited by the endurance of the crew.


RE: Stealth?
By nafhan on 5/5/2011 10:28:33 AM , Rating: 2
Low and slow, yes, but relative to other aircraft. That doesn't necessarily mean 20mph at 50ft above the ground. Something fairly small and light grey a few thousand feet up with no contrail will be hard to spot. Regardless, this thing doesn't look like it's going to fall into the "low and slow" stereotype, probably high subsonic.

Operating in enemy territory is one of the main reasons to build combat aircraft. UAV's haven't changed this. Your point about enemies getting advanced technology applies to any aircraft - not just unmanned.


RE: Stealth?
By aliasfox on 5/5/2011 11:15:57 AM , Rating: 2
Well, I guess my point was to ask about what kind of procedures would be in place if a stealth UAV were to be shot down - emphasis on the stealth. Wasn't that new Chinese fighter bomber built using data from recovered F117 material (Bosnia)? There would still have to be manned fighters standing by ready to take to the air and blow one of these to tiny little pieces - would that be a dramatic departure from current SOP?

When I referred to 'low and slow' I was assuming that these things were flying ~10k ft above the ground, no faster than 3-400 mph. If (as some posters are suggesting) these are flying at higher-than-airliner altitudes at 600 mph, then stealth becomes much more useful - those are similar conditions that the B-2 flies under, as well (high enough and fast enough that even if it is spotted, there's not much ground forces can do about it).


RE: Stealth?
By nafhan on 5/5/2011 2:07:40 PM , Rating: 2
If one of these went down, I would think it would be easier to dispose of than say an F-22 or F-35 since they wouldn't having to worry about recovering/harming a pilot. Otherwise, I don't see why it would be any different than other high tech military vehicles.

I think this is going to have more in common with current manned aircraft than older stuff like the Predator. So, flight profiles, etc. will probably be similar to stuff like the B-2 or current fighter bombers. By the way, stealth and infrared masking technologies still have an undeniable benefit at low altitudes.


RE: Stealth?
By DawsonsDada on 5/5/2011 10:33:16 AM , Rating: 2
Only some UAV's fly "low and slow". The one's that do this are usually tactical UAV's that are hand launched and are carried by two man team's.

There are other UAV's (think Global Hawk, Predator, etc.) that fly several thousand feet up in the air and are either small enough to not provide much of a radar return (Predator) and can't be heard or fly high enough that even though they might provide a radar return they won't be heard by anyone on the ground (Global Hawk, etc.)

That being said, fighters and helicopter gun ships are capable of downing these UAV's if they can be found and vectored into an interception.

Technology trasfer due to a "shoot down" scenario is always a consideration so we try to (paraphrasing Gen. Patton here) "make the other guy die for his country first)


The more the better
By Beenthere on 5/5/2011 10:11:45 AM , Rating: 1
The more of these UAVs we have the more terrorists we can kill without endangering our pilots. This is very good.




RE: The more the better
By Skywalker123 on 5/6/2011 4:23:22 AM , Rating: 3
doesn't matter, we make enemies faster than we can kill them. and China is getting tired of loaning us the money for new military toys.


Pilotless Drones??
By sorry dog on 5/5/2011 12:37:08 PM , Rating: 2
This won't really replace human pilots. First of all it still needs a pilot, as it will be quite a while before the aircraft AI will be good enough to solo a mission. The Air Force recently stated that we are years away from a computer being capable of completing a mission without human direction...so what happens if communications are denied to the aircraft? I doubt it will be allowed to drop weapons without a person pressing the button. So this will only be effective against enemies that don't possess jamming equipment or areas we have air dominance.
I wouldn't expect this to have the same effectiveness compared to traditional aircraft against a hardened enemy such as N Korea or Iran.




RE: Pilotless Drones??
By Azethoth on 5/5/2011 4:11:48 PM , Rating: 2
Nah, the US does not have any capable enemies in the entire world. Outspending the next 50 countries buys a lot of superiority. China, if its economy surpasses ours one day, if it decides to waste its money on a massive military complex, if we decide to fight them, may some day in the far future present a problem.

People can go on about how awesome and frightening and hardened N Korea or Iran or whatever is, but the bottom line is the missiles go in on night one, the stealth bombers from night 2 onwards, everyone and their dog from then on till the ground forces decide the pickings are getting too slim and they need to hurry in to still shoot at something while it moves.

The idea that anything on this planet poses a military challenge to the US right now is just laughable.


Latest from the rumour mill...
By Amiga500 on 5/5/2011 8:44:34 AM , Rating: 2
This will form the basis of a USN carrier based strike aircraft.

Additionally, the F-136 engine which has been cancelled may be re-used on the USAF long range strike bomber that we've been hearing about for the past while.




By WinstonSmith on 5/5/2011 11:29:54 AM , Rating: 2
Why? Because the USAF doesn't like UAVs. Why? Because pilots become generals and they don't want the USAF to evolve into just a bunch of UAV pilots or, worse yet, a bunch of Autonomous Aerial Vehicle maintenance personnel.




A Must-Read
By rangerdavid on 5/8/2011 3:41:11 PM , Rating: 2
You should all ready this short-but-poignant reminder of the costs of ever-increasingly complex and costly weapons systems (and it's great Sci-Fi!):

" Superiority " by Arthor C. Clark:
http://www.mayofamily.com/RLM/txt_Clarke_Superiori...




True
By rburnham on 5/9/2011 9:10:22 PM , Rating: 2
Cobra Commander is going to want to get his hands on this.




Stealthy huh?
By MrPoletski on 5/10/2011 7:02:05 AM , Rating: 2
Stealthy until somebody triangulates the telemetry information that's being relayed backward and forward from it...




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