Autonomous drone Wingman program passes two milestones in Australia

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Boeing in Australia has achieved two milestones in its program to develop an autonomous drone capable of team working with manned fighter jets.

The Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) Loyal Wingman – Advanced Development Program has achieved weight on wheels and aircraft power just weeks after completion of the first fuselage, allowing for rapid progress on systems installation and functional and integration testing from the aircraft’s own landing gear. The aircraft is expected to complete its first flight this year.

The aircraft is one of three prototypes that will be developed as a part of the Loyal Wingman program, which is one of the most advanced projects in the world to develop a manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) concept. Mostly being developed for military applications, MUM-T concepts involve a drone supporting and extending a piloted aircraft during missions.

“We’re continuing at pace toward our goal of flying later this year, so that we can show our customer and the world what unmanned capability like this can do,” said Shane Arnott, program director of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System. “The strong contributions from our industry team are powering our progress.”

The UAV being developed will provide fighter-like performance, measure 38ft long (11.7m), be able to fly more than 2,000 nautical miles and is designed to use artificial intelligence in teaming with other manned and unmanned platforms.

Other partners on the program include: BAE Systems Australia, which is delivering hardware kits including flight control computers and navigation equipment; RUAG Australia, which is developing the landing gear system; Ferra Engineering, which is producing precision machine components and sub-assemblies to support the program and AME Systems, which is supplying wiring looms to support the vehicle.

The aircraft will be tested at a new multimillion commercial drone flight testing facility at Cloncurry Airport in Queensland, Australia is set to open this year with The Boeing Company as its first user.

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Ben has worked all of his career as a journalist and now editor, covering almost all aspects of technology, engineering and industry. In the last 20 years he has written on subjects from nuclear submarines and autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies and commercial aviation. Latterly editor of a leading engineering magazine, he brings an eye for a great story and lots of experience to the team.

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