Boeing’s Phantom Ray UCAV technology demonstrator has now made its first flight, potentially paving the way for the next generation of unmanned aircraft designs to be developed.
The Phantom Ray’s maiden flight occurred on 27 April and saw it launch from Edwards Air Force Base in California: the USAF’s main technology testing site.
The stealthy Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle spent a total of 17 minutes in the air and reached an altitude of 7,500 feet and a top speed of 178 knots, while the flight followed a recent collection of taxi trials carried out earlier in the year. These ground runs served to test a number of Phantom Ray capabilities, including its mission planning and navigational features.
The Phantom Ray first flight has now proved the design’s fundamental airworthiness and its ability to be controlled autonomously. A programme of subsequent flight tests is scheduled for coming weeks and this will explore a host of different modern-day operational tactics and procedures, including air defence suppression, air-to-air refuelling, strike and surveillance.
The Boeing Phantom Ray project was initialised in 2007 and took its lead from the same firm’s X-45C technology demonstrator. Boeing intends for it to be the first member of a future UCAV prototype family and, so far, only the one example has been built.
For many months, the Phantom Ray development programme was kept under wraps and, even at Boeing’s facilities, only a very small number of engineers and officials were made aware of it. All that changed in May 2010, when the prototype was unveiled to the world during an official roll-out ceremony.
The first flight of the Boeing Phantom Ray UCAV represents the culmination of many months work, as a company representative explained in a press release.
“This day has been two-and-a-half years in the making”, Boeing Phantom Works President, Darryl Davis, stated. “It's the beginning of providing our customers with a test bed to develop future unmanned systems technology, and a testament to the capabilities resident within Boeing. Just as follow-on tests will expand Phantom Ray's flight envelope, they also will help Boeing expand its presence in the unmanned systems market.”