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Boeing-led Australian consortium unveils major unmanned aircraft prototype

15th May 2020

By: Rebecca Campbell

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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US aerospace and defence giant Boeing on May 5 unveiled the outcome of its biggest-ever investment in unmanned aircraft outside the US, the prototype Loyal Wingman unmanned air vehicle (UAV), in Sydney, Australia. The Loyal Wingman has been developed by a Boeing-led consortium of Australian companies.

The Loyal Wingman UAV is the first aircraft to be designed, developed, engineered and built in Australia in more than 50 years. It has been developed on behalf of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) by a consortium of more than 35 Australian enterprises under Boeing Australia’s leadership.

Following its unveiling, the Loyal Wingman will be subjected to ground tests and then taxiing tests. It is expected to make its maiden flight before the end of the year. Two further prototypes will follow. In addition to fulfilling an Australian advanced development programme, the new UAV will also provide the basis for Boeing’s Airpower Teaming System which is being developed for the global market.

“We are proud to take this significant step forward with the Royal Australian Air Force and show the potential for smart unmanned teaming to serve as a force multiplier,” highlighted Boeing Defence, Space and Security Autonomous Systems VP and GM Kristin Robertson. “We look forward to getting the aircraft into flight testing and proving out the unmanned teaming concept. We see global allies with those same mission needs, which is why this programme is so important to advancing the development of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System.”

The development of the UAV was supported by Boeing capabilities drawn from across the group. The Loyal Wingman was manufactured with the largest single resin-infused composite structure ever produced by the US company. Its development was assisted by the use of a digital twin (a virtual copy of the UAV in cyberspace), which allowed the modelling of its systems, structures, capabilities and even its full life-cycle needs. Its assembly used established advanced manufacturing techniques.

“This is a truly historic moment for our country and for Australian defence innovation,” enthused Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. “The Loyal Wingman will be pivotal to exploring the critical capabilities our Air Force needs to protect our nation and its allies into the future.”

“This project is an excellent example of innovation through collaboration and what can be achieved working together with [the] defence industry,” affirmed chief of the RAAF, Air Marshall Mel Hupfeld. “This demonstrates the importance of the relationship [the] Air Force has with Boeing Australia and [the] defence industry more broadly. I look forward to exploring the capabilities this aircraft may bring to our existing fleet in future.”

The Loyal Wingman programme is intended to allow the RAAF to develop techniques that make it possible for UAVs to be integrated with crewed fighters and other combat aircraft, to allow them to carry out combat missions together. An important feature of the UAVs design is its nose. This is about 2.59 m long, with an internal capacity of some 147 500 cm3. The nose is designed to be easy to take off and easy to put back on. This means that a range of noses can be fitted with different sensor systems, such as a radar or an infrared search and track system or an electronic warfare system, for example. Thus the aircraft can easily be reconfigured for different missions, depending upon operational requirements.

The Loyal Wingman is semiautonomous, so it does not have to be remotely piloted, and is intended to be much cheaper than a crewed aircraft. It has a length of 11.5 m and, reportedly, a range of 3 700 km. Should it prove successful, full-scale production could start around 2025.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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