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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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RE: Aaaannnd here we go..
By InsaneGain on 5/14/2010 4:54:13 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, I'm starting to wonder if the F-22 plans have been cut back because higher ups know that new technology will very soon render them completely obsolete. These planes will not be encumbered by human limitations. I read something about how these UAV's will be able to patrol in mass formations and communicate any detected threats to each other, and then instantly formulate the best strategy to eliminate the threat together. Science fiction usually portrays humans as having a very hard time, but having a good chance against a machine enemy. In reality, I don't think humans would have even a slight chance of success against a well created artificial intelligence that can sense its targets much better, formulate strategy much quicker, calculate things like lead perfectly, and never miss. I believe if the SkyNet scenario ever did happen, humans would be wiped out very quickly.

RE: Aaaannnd here we go..
By ColomialBoy on 5/18/2010 1:21:30 AM , Rating: 2
That the one thing computers do NOT do well. They also are not too terrific at pattern recognition/processing, which is something we humans do well from birth (I have read some recent studies about how much more rapidly human babies learn to recognize images compared to adults. It's a little scary).

Remember, a computer cannot formulate a strategy any better than it's programmer can. Look at the terrific difficulties they are having getting the robotic cars to work in Darpa annual robotic vehicle competition. It's taken 5+ years for the best minds in the US to get robotic vehicles to work well in their simulated urban environment (top speed 10MPH). Now think about what it is like in a furball with 10+ jets on each side going hundreds of MPG, plus multiple missiles travelling multiple mach speeds. It will quite a while before computers will be trusted to more than maintain level flight (which they do quite well).

"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
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