Boeing to start testing drones at new Australian flight test facility next year


A multimillion commercial drone flight testing facility at Cloncurry Airport in Queensland, Australia is set to open next year with The Boeing Company as its first user.

Construction of the testing facility, which is being funded by an AU$14.5 million (US$10 million) investment from local government, is expected to begin early next year with operations commencing later in 2020.

The initial investment will cover construction of the first stage of the facility, including a hangar, operation room and surveillance radar and communications equipment. The center will test small-to-medium sized drones weighing between 30-150kg over distances of 25km along a designated flight path.

Shane Arnott, Boeing’s director of Phantom Works International said the company is looking forward to using the flight test facility in 2020 to safely and securely test the latest advances in unmanned systems technology.

“The creation of what will be one of the world’s largest commercial unmanned flight test facilities is critical to establishing Australia as a global leader in autonomous technology,” Arnott said.

The opening of the drone flight testing centre in Queensland follows an announcement earlier this year by Boeing that it will develop the Loyal Wingman concept demonstrator in Australia.

Loyal Wingman is a so-called “teaming” concept, where a drone supports and extends piloted aircraft during military missions.

Boeing Australia has already  fielded a team of 15 autonomous testbed aircraft to refine systems required for teaming, such as autonomous control algorithms, data fusion, object detection systems, and collision avoidance behaviours.

Earlier this month, the company announced it had reached a significant milestone with its first autonomous teamed flights involving high performance jets:

Boeing said it will initially be testing  high-performance airborne testbeds at the new Cloncurry facility as part of an autonomy R&D program, the results of which will contribute to new products and prototypes, such as the Loyal Wingman – Advanced Development Program.

The Minister for state development responsible for the Queensland Drone Strategy, Cameron Dick, said, “Our government was the first in Australia to launch a drone strategy, and now we’re well on the way to becoming the nation’s drone technology capital.

“We have secured the world’s largest aerospace group, Boeing, to be the first to conduct trials at the facility, creating an exciting new aerospace industry for the region.”

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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