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The Phantom Ray is a fighter-sized semi-autonomous stealth UAV from Boeing, shown here in a concept rendering.  (Source: Boeing)

The near-complete Phantom Ray was unveiled this week and will begin test flights in December.  (Source: Boeing photo)
First flight will be conducted in December

Last year, Boeing discussed the future of the "Phantom Ray", a stealthy, unmanned aerial vehicle.  The Phantom Ray was based on the X-45C design which Boeing produced for the DARPA Joint-Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) program.

On Monday, Boeing unveiled the near complete fighter-sized automated craft and announced that plans to conduct a December test flight and nine more test flights in the following six months were proceeding quite nicely.

Darryl Davis, president of Boeing Phantom Works cheered, "We are on a fast track, and first flight is in sight.  Phantom Ray is on schedule to fly in December, about two years after this project began. This is a tremendous accomplishment for Boeing and the Phantom Ray team."

The Phantom Ray is designed to fulfill a variety of roles including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; suppression of enemy air defenses; electronic attack; strike; and autonomous aerial refueling. 

Today, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are fast becoming a mainstay of the U.S. Armed Forces in the global arena, but most UAVs currently in action require extensive piloting.  The Phantom Ray, by contrast, would be mostly autonomous, making its own way to designated targets and only requiring a human operator to pull the trigger.  The Phantom Ray is also larger than most UAVs currently in action, and thus should be able to support more diverse roles or provide more destructive power.

Test taxis will take place this summer.  Craig Brown, Phantom Ray program manager for Boeing, describes the flights that will follow, stating, "The initial flights will take Phantom Ray through its paces for the flight test profile. Beyond that, the missions and systems tested will be determined by future warfighter needs."

Boeing describes its secretive Phantom Works division writing:

Phantom Works uses rapid prototyping initiatives to design, develop and build advanced aircraft and then demonstrate their capabilities.

A number of military suppliers were involved with the Phantom Ray.  Among those announced by Boeing include General Electric-Aviation (propulsion and power distribution), Honeywell (brake system), Woodward-HRT (flight control actuation system), Crane Hydro-Aire (brake controls) and Heroux-Devtek (landing gear). 

The U.S. Air Force last year gained their first jet-powered UAV.  If the tests of the Phantom Ray go smoothly, it may decide to soon add its first semi-autonomous stealth UAV to its stable.

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Got a question....
By Smartless on 5/14/2010 2:40:48 PM , Rating: 5
The plane is stealthy but what stops the enemy from monitoring, intercepting or jamming the transmission. Raspberry, no one dares to use Raspberry but Looooonnnestaaaar.

RE: Got a question....
By nafhan on 5/14/2010 2:52:16 PM , Rating: 3
I'd imagine spread spectrum ( radio stuff with some pretty decent encryption on top. Possibly other stuff, too...

RE: Got a question....
By Smartless on 5/14/2010 3:07:36 PM , Rating: 3
Wow thanks. Wikipedia is great though i guess it helps if you know what you're looking for.

What's also funny is when I first saw this design, I thought hey I've seen something just like it on a recent trip to the Smithsonian. LOL shoulda known.

RE: Got a question....
By Jeffk464 on 5/14/2010 6:04:14 PM , Rating: 1
Semi-autonomous, it can fly all the way to the target on its own and then only requires human input to pull the trigger. It sounds like it can go radio silent until right before it is ready to attack the target.

RE: Got a question....
By PrinceGaz on 5/16/2010 10:23:12 AM , Rating: 5
It seems a bit of a weakness if it has to receive communication before it opens fire. A better idea would be for it to be fully automated and be given general mission objectives in advance and its own onboard AI will decide what to attack. Unlike humans, computers are infallible so what could possibly go wrong?

RE: Got a question....
By Jackattak on 5/17/2010 12:07:18 PM , Rating: 2
No way in hell will they ever provide AI with the ability to attack targets. Way too much liability, there.

SkyNet, anyone?

RE: Got a question....
By jpwolf on 5/19/2010 5:11:40 PM , Rating: 2
Except we already have drones that fly ~2000 miles and attack a pre-determined target automatically. Ever heard of a cruise missile?

I will agree that its unlikely that we will have AI that we trust to go engage any old target it feels like anytime soon. But its not hard to imagine AI that could handle flying over a battlefield in a pre-determined area and destroy anything that looks like a tank.

RE: Got a question....
By AbsShek on 5/19/2010 8:39:15 AM , Rating: 2
What if it gets hit by lightning and grows a conscience?

RE: Got a question....
By drycrust3 on 5/14/2010 3:07:22 PM , Rating: 2
or jamming the transmission

Jamming is just an interim measure, the permanent measure is to download the aircraft's login and password off the internet and to then tell the plane to land at your airfield. Once landed you quickly photograph all the inner workings and copy the software, then tell the plane to take off and resume it's mission.
9 months later, lo and behold, you have your own UAV fighter ... that needs a Windows License? "Are you sure this isn't a trick by the CIA?".

RE: Got a question....
By thekdub on 5/16/2010 1:38:52 AM , Rating: 2
If the enemy jams the radar, the plane will just switch over to the onboard Mr. Coffee.

RE: Got a question....
By osalcido on 5/16/2010 6:31:49 AM , Rating: 3
No Idea why this got modded up... if you read the effing article it says the breakthrough with this aircraft is that it is nearly autonomous. It's TODAY's UAVs that are susceptible to the type of Ewar you're talking about. This thing could be jammed to all hell and still fly to its target and back.

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