Boeing has announced that the fifth Airpower Teaming System (ATS) prototype for the Royal Australian Air Force’s Loyal Wingman program is in production.
Currently being built at the company’s Fishermans Bend facility in Melbourne, the company is preparing its new final assembly facility at Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport in Queensland to take over ATS program assembly.
The production milestone comes as the RAAF and Boeing ramp up ATS flight testing. Defence has announced that two ATS aircraft recently completed missions at the Woomera Test Site, and that testing will soon begin on integrating the aircraft with other RAAF platforms.
“The Loyal Wingman sets new standards for capability development and shows what collaboration between industry and Defence can achieve,” Chief of Air Force AIRMSHL Hupfeld said in a November 4 release. “Flight testing is increasing throughout the year, and we are on the way to teaming the Loyal Wingman aircraft with existing airpower platforms.”
Head of Air Force Capability, AVM Cath Roberts added, “This opens up significant capability agility for Air Force, particularly with features such as the reconfigurable nose. We’re heavily engaged in the payload development and the element of surprise that it gives us in the battlespace. You never really know what’s in the nose.”
The ATS features an interchangeable nose section which can be pre-configured with various payloads including radar, electronic warfare, or electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors.
In a November 1 company release, Boeing’s director of Airpower Teaming System Vehicle Design and Production, Andrew Glynn said, “We approached the design of the air vehicle and production system together with a ‘design for cost’ philosophy.”
“While we’ve developed a clean sheet design featuring many new technologies, we’ve also made smart decisions by incorporating off-the-shelf components and leveraging digital engineering to optimise both speed-to-market and design producibility,” he added. “By collaborating with our Australian industry team, including RUAG Australia and Ferra Engineering, throughout the design process we’ve been able to incorporate ‘design for manufacture’ features across all air vehicle components and sub-systems.
“The team adopted three key manufacturing innovations for the Airpower Teaming System, in the areas of robotic drill and fill, shimless assembly, and full-size determinant assembly to significantly reduce assembly costs, compared with traditional methods. We’ve completely removed manual drilling from our production system, improving safety, quality, and efficiency across our manufacturing operations.
“To achieve this, we have designed all components to have pre-drilled holes by our suppliers at the sub-component level, allowing the final assembly to snap together without the need for any manual drilling in the factory.”
The first ATS was rolled out of the Fishermans Bend facility in May 2020, and was transported to Amberley where it conducted engine runs and low-speed taxi tests. It was then transported to Woomera Test Range in South Australia where it conducted high-speed taxi tests in late 2020, and a successful first flight in February 2021.