Boeing’s Phantom Ray UCAV Makes Its First Flight

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.”