Boeing roll out First Prototype of unnamed aircraft called Loyal Wingman
Boeing is all set to roll out the first three prototypes of unnamed aircraft as “Loyal Wingman” for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) during a Tuesday morning ceremony.
On the occasion, the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said “ This is truly the most historic milestone not only for Australian defense innovation but to our country as well. 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.
Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, Chief of the Royal Australian Air Force, said the rollout of the first unnamed aircraft was a significant milestone in the Boeing Loyal Wingman Project.
“This project is an excellent example of innovation through collaboration and what can be achieved working together with defence industry,” said Air Marshal Hupfeld. “This demonstrates the importance of the relationship Air Force has with Boeing Australia and defence industry more broadly. I look forward to exploring the capabilities this aircraft may bring to our existing fleet in the future.”
“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,” said Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Autonomous Systems for Boeing Defense, Space & Security. “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 program is so important to advancing the development of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System.”
The first three prototypes for Australia’s Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Program, this unnamed aircraft also serve as the model foundation for the Boeing Airpower Teaming System (ATS) being developed for the global defense market.
The ATS is semi-autonomous, meaning that fighter pilots will not have to remotely control the maneuvers of the drone, said Shane Arnott, Boeing’s ATS program director.
“When you are teaming, say with a Super Hornet, they don’t have the luxury during combat maneuvers or operations to be remotely piloting another aircraft while doing their own,” he said.
Boeing first introduced the Airpower Teaming System at the Australian International Airshow at Avalon in February 2019, when the company unveiled a full-scale model. Since then, the company has moved quickly to fabricate the first of three aircraft, completing the fuselage structure this February. In April, the aircraft stood on its own wheels for the first time and powered on.
The ATS air vehicle is 38 feet long, with a removable nose that can be packed with mission-specific sensors and other payloads. Throughout the design process, Boeing simulated a “digital twin” of the aircraft that allowed it to virtualize the operation of the aircraft, as well as how it would be produced and maintained.
It also saved money by incorporating resin-infused composite structures, including one that is the largest piece Boeing has ever manufactured using that technique, Hayes said. That large structure snaps into another to form the plane’s wings, cutting down on the manpower needed to fabricate the aircraft.
While the drone’s sleek, twin-tailed design is simple, with only four moving surfaces, it was carefully composed to optimize the aircraft’s survivability, maneuverability and cost, Arnott said.
While Arnott wouldn’t talk about the stealth features of the aircraft, he noted that “there was a lot of thought put into getting that right balance of ‘good enough’ across the board, and [radar] signature is obviously an aspect, and affordability is a big one.”
Boeing is also engaged with the U.S. military about potential uses of the ATS, Hayes asid.
“We see the Airpower Teaming System platform as capable of going against many different mission sets, and as such, we’re engaging across the Department of Defense to understand their specific mission need, what their requirements are for those, and understanding exactly how the Airpower Teaming System fits those,” he said.
The nose — which is 8.5 feet long with more than 90k cubic inches volume — is key to the company’s strategy to sell the system outside of Australia, Arnott said. Boeing envisions working with international customers to create customized modular payloads that could be built with the help of indigenous suppliers, thus increasing its appeal.