On Thursday, Boeing’s Loyal Wingman project hit a major milestone in its development as the first prototype cleared the taxi trials on the runway using its own power in Australia.
Officially known as the “Airpower Teaming System” or the ATS, the UAV carried out several manoeuvres on the ground hitting a top speed of 25.7 Km/hr (16 mph), and demonstrated all necessary ground-clearance capabilities including stopping on command, etc.
The ATS concept is a further evolution of the drone swarm concept, where a group or swarm of unmanned aircraft, networked together are used to take on the more challenging tasks such as surveillance in challenged air spaces, or Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD/DEAD) roles.
Paul Ryder, Boeing Australia flight test manager, said: “The low-speed taxi enabled us to verify the function and integration of the aircraft systems, including steering, braking and engine controls, with the aircraft in motion.”
The project is a joint undertaking between Boeing Australia and the Royal Australian Air Force. The US Air Force is also seen as a prospective and the major customer for the UAV.
The drone is a jet-powered, autonomous, artificial-intelligence-powered wingman aircraft having a range of 2,000 nm (2,301 mi, 3,704 km) that can fly alongside UAVs and piloted combat aircraft.
On October 5th, Boeing announced that its Queensland facility will be the sole manufacturing site for what is colloquially known as the ‘Loyal Wingman’ (or ATS) drone program, making it the first such program outside the States. The company first unveiled the mock-up at the Avalon Airshow in 2019, and the system had its first engine run in mid-September.
Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts, head of Air Force Capability, added: “[The RAAF] partners with industry to ensure we can find innovative solutions to meet our future priorities.”
“Boeing’s Loyal Wingman project is a perfect example of what this collaborative approach can achieve. Seeing the prototype take to the runway for this low-speed taxi test is an exciting moment – another significant development milestone ahead of its first flight.”
However, much of the details about the aircraft’s performance and equipment carried are still classified. “While the chief customer for Loyal Wingman is the RAAF, Boeing and the 16 Australian industries behind the project also have an eye on the global defence market.
Toward that end, Loyal Wingman has a modular nose cone that can be modified for a customer’s specific needs, and it can operate as a conventional aircraft for takeoff, approach and landing for a variety of missions and runway configurations.”