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:
Works uses rapid prototyping initiatives to design, develop and build
advanced aircraft and then demonstrate their capabilities.
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.
quote: The F-22 and F-35 will probably be the last manned fighters designed in the U.S.
quote: the F22 was first deployed in 2005, the F35 is expected to enter service in 2012-14 (depending on which variant you're looking at). That's a 30+ year gap; in 20 years or so when we start looking at what to replace our aging F22/35 fleet with UAVs will be much more capable than they are currently; and an autonomous or remote controlled fighter might be a viable option then.
quote: The AF really needs to find a happy medium between the forties and fifties when they developed a new aircraft at the drop of a hat and now when they seem to presume a design going into production will last 30-50 years.