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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 Solandri on 5/16/2010 11:30:57 AM , Rating: 2
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.

Erm, I was an intern at Lockheed in 1991 when the Air Force selected the YF-22 over the YF-23 and the F-22 became the official designation. Despite being the premier air superiority fighter currently in the USAF's arsenal, the plane was made and designed with 1980s technology. A lot of its specifications were based on combat scenarios with Soviet fighters and bombers. The end of the Cold War left it as a pariah - a plane looking for a mission. That combined with budget cuts and development delays led to its late entry into active service.

Basically, the F22 is already 20-30 years old. The F35 is a much newer plane, but I haven't been following its development as closely. The overall impression I get though is "too many cooks spoil the broth." It's being asked to be able to do so many different things, that I doubt it will do any one thing particularly well.

RE: Aaaannnd here we go..
By US56 on 5/16/2010 6:17:45 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly. I'm afraid the F-35 could become the new TFX. That eventually came right after 20 years but by the time it did its mission had nearly evaporated. 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. With rapid advancement of technology, they have to be more flexible and prepared to light a lot of fuses to keep things evolving. Wouldn't it be nice to have some of the bailout billions for new aircraft designs?

RE: Aaaannnd here we go..
By mostyle on 5/17/2010 6:39:31 AM , Rating: 1
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.

Really? You think that the monster that motivates such classics as 'hurry up and wait' would actually grasp the concept of a happy medium? The mere fact that what you say makes perfect common sense would imply that it probably wont see the light of day in a military setting..


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