The Boeing Airpower Teaming System (ATS) unmanned combat air vehicle being developed for the RAAF’s Loyal Wingman program has conducted a series of high-speed taxi tests ahead of its anticipated first flight at the Woomera Test Range in South Australia.
Being developed by Boeing Defence Australia (BDA) and its industry team for the RAAF’s Air Force Minor Program DEF 6014 Phase 1, the high-speed taxi tests were conducted on the Woomera Range Complex’s Runway 36/18.
Unfortunately, poor weather and unfavourable wind conditions in recent weeks appear to have pushed the planned first flight from late 2020 into the first weeks of 2021. Calm wind conditions are required for the first flight as, in order to avoid overflying the nearby Woomera settlement, the air vehicle will need to take off to the north on RWY36, and land from the north on RWY18.
“Our test program is progressing well, and we are happy with the ground test data we have collected to date,” Boeing Flight Test manager, Paul Ryder said in a company release. “We are working with the Air Warfare Centre to complete final test verifications to prepare for flight testing in the new year.”
Boeing ATS program director Dr Shane Arnott added, “In the past year alone, we have made amazing strides on this aircraft, taking it from a fuselage to a finished aircraft that has undergone rigorous testing. Our focus now is on conducting a safe and secure flight-test regimen for the Loyal Wingman program.”
It’s been a busy year for the BDA ATS team in Brisbane. After a full scale mockup was revealed at the 2019 Avalon Airshow, the first real aircraft achieved a power-on of its systems in March 2020, was rolled out in May 2020, had its first engine tests at RAAF Amberley in September, and commenced taxi tests at Amberley in October.
During this time, BDA has also continued to develop its artificial intelligence algorithms and sensors that will allow the ATS to safely operate in company with manned or other unmanned aircraft to augment the combat, electronic warfare, or the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities of those systems.
RAAF Head of Air Force Capability AVM Cath Roberts said, “There is something very special about testing an aircraft that takes technology to the next level. It is iconic in its own way. Experiencing the enthusiasm of the Boeing and Air Force team reminded me of my early career testing aircraft. This is what innovation is all about – working together to achieve many firsts.
“The Loyal Wingman is the first project of its kind carried out in Australia. It is the first military combat aircraft to be designed, engineered, and manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years. More than 35 Australian companies have contributed to the Loyal Wingman program. There are many firsts that we will remember for a long time.”