As the U.S. military moves towards a more technologically advanced fighting force, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are becoming an increasingly important part of the U.S. air superiority plan. Military leaders are using UAVs to handle operations where a manned flight would put the pilot at serious risk.
Boeing has announced that it plans to demonstrate a new unmanned flying test bed aircraft using advanced air systems technologies. The internally funded program is being called Phantom Ray and is based on a prototype air vehicle originally designed by Boeing for the DARPA Joint-Unmanned Combat Air System program.
Boeing says that the Phantom Ray vehicle is scheduled to make its first flight in December 2010. Over a six-month period the aircraft will make 10 flights simulating a variety of missions possibly including intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, enemy air defense suppression, electronic attack, hunter/killer, and autonomous aerial refueling.
To meet the fast schedule of deployment and testing Boeing says that it is making extensive use of rapid prototyping techniques. The project is being run by the Boeing Phantom Works organization.
Boeing Phantom Works President Darryl Davis said, "Boeing's goals for the Phantom Ray program clearly demonstrate our commitment to rapid prototyping and are an important part of the company's efforts to be a leader in the unmanned aircraft business. We have mobilized our assets to continue the tremendous potential we developed under J-UCAS, and now will fully demonstrate that capability."
The Phantom Ray program will pick up where Boeing left off with its UCAS program in 2006. Plans for the aircraft are to show Boeing's unmanned systems development capabilities in a fighter-sized aerospace system. The Boeing UCAS program began with the X-45A, which flew 64 times from 2002 to 2005.
Boeing VP of Advanced Military Aircraft Dave Koopersmith said, "What is particularly exciting about Phantom Ray is that we will incorporate the latest technologies into the superb X-45C airframe design. As we gradually expand the vehicle's flight envelope, potential users will have access to a full range of unique capabilities that only this type of autonomous platform can provide."
The Phantom Ray project is scheduled for lab testing in late 2009 followed by ground testing and the first flight in 2010. The U.S. Air Force recently unveiled its first jet-powered UAV.
quote: The U.S. Air Force recently unveiled its first jet-powered UAV