Boeing’s Phantom Ray unmanned airborne demonstrator aircraft, developed as a private venture with company funds has performed its first flight at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
The 17-minute maiden flight, last Wednesday, saw the Phantom Ray fly to 7,500 feet and reach a speed of 178 knots. “This day has been two-and-a-half years in the making,” said Darryl Davis, president, Boeing Phantom Works. “It’s the beginning of providing our customers with a test bed to develop future unmanned systems technology, and a testament to the capabilities resident within Boeing. Just as follow-on tests will expand Phantom Ray’s flight envelope, they also will help Boeing expand its presence in the unmanned systems market.”
The flight demonstrated Phantom Ray’s basic airworthiness, setting the stage for additional flights in the next few weeks, Boeing said yesterday. Indeed, the Phantom Ray demonstrator is expected to perform ten flight tests over six months. These company-funded flights will prepare Phantom Ray to support potential missions that may include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; suppression of enemy air defenses; electronic attack; strike; and autonomous air refueling, Boeing says.
The Phantom Ray conducted low speed taxi tests in November last year at Lambert-St Louis International Airport before it was flown to California on December 13 aboard one of NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA). First flight was originally scheduled for December last year, but high speed taxing testing only took place in March. This validated ground guidance, navigation and control and verified mission planning, pilot interface and operational procedures.
“The first flight moves us farther into the next phase of unmanned aircraft,” said Craig Brown, Phantom Ray program manager for Boeing. “Autonomous, fighter-sized unmanned aircraft are real, and the UAS bar has been raised. Now I’m eager to see how high that bar will go.”
Phantom Ray is one of several programs in Phantom Works, including Phantom Eye, that is part of a rapid prototyping initiative to design, develop and build advanced aircraft and then demonstrate their capabilities. Boeing’s portfolio of UAS aircraft also includes the A160T Hummingbird, Integrator, ScanEagle and SolarEagle.
The Phantom Ray project was started in June 2008 but remained secret until May 2009. It is being developed by Boeing Phantom Works and is based on the X-45C prototype that Boeing had developed for the Joint-Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) programme. Phantom Ray is not aimed at any specific competition, but is allowing Boeing to build up UAS experience, Flight International reports.