SYDNEY (Reuters) – Boeing Co and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) said on Tuesday they had completed the first test flight on a pilotless fighter-like jet designed to co-operate with manned aircraft.
The “Loyal Wingman”, the first military aircraft designed and produced in Australia in more than 50 years, flies under the supervision of Boeing test pilots monitoring it from a ground control station in South Australia.
The Australian Government has invested A $ 40 million ($ 31 million) in developing the product, which Boeing says is adaptable for other global customers.
Boeing’s Loyal Wingman is 38 feet (11.6 meters) long, has a range of 2,000 nautical miles (3,704 km) and a nose that detaches to fit a wide range of payloads. This aircraft can carry weapons and act as a shield to help protect the more expensive manned fighter jets.
Defense contractors are increasingly investing in autonomous technology as militaries around the world seek cheaper and safer ways to maximize their resources.
Britain in January signed a GBP 30 million ($ 42 million) contract with Spirit AeroSystems’ unit in Belfast for a similar pilotless aircraft to undergo flight trials in the next three years.
During a test flight in Australia, the Loyal Wingman took off in its own strength before flying a pre-determined route at different speeds and altitudes to verify its function and demonstrate design performance.
The first Loyal Wingman is used as the foundation for Boeing’s Airpower Teaming System, a service under development for a wide range of global defense customers.
Boeing said additional Loyal Wingman aircraft were currently under development, with plans for a cooperative flight scheduled for later this year.
The aircraft maker previously said up to 16 Loyal Wingman jets could team up with the manned aircraft on missions.
Reporting by Jamie Freed; Edited by Kenneth Maxwell