Stealth Unmanned Combat Vehicle Makes First Flight

Article written: 3 May , 2011
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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Looking like something straight from a 1950’s science fiction magazine, the stealthy Phantom Ray unmanned airborne system (UAS) successfully completed its first flight on April 27, 2011 at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The 17-minute flight took place following a series of high-speed taxi tests in March that validated ground guidance, navigation and control and verified mission planning, pilot interface and operational procedures. The Phantom Ray is a demonstrator aircraft, about the size of a fighter jet, developed to test operations such as air surveillance, ground attack and autonomous aerial refueling missions. During the test flight, the Phantom Ray flew to 2,290 meters (7,500 feet) and reached a speed of 178 knots.

The Phantom Ray on the runway preparing for its first flight. Credit: Boeing.


“This day has been two-and-a-half years in the making,” said Darryl Davis, president, Boeing Phantom Works. “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.”

The flight demonstrated Phantom Ray’s basic airworthiness, and Boeing engineers are planning additional flights in the next few weeks. Other potential uses for the vehicle include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and suppression of enemy air defenses.

“The first flight moves us farther into the next phase of unmanned aircraft,” said Craig Brown, Phantom Ray program manager for Boeing. “Autonomous, fighter-sized unmanned aircraft are real, and the UAS bar has been raised. Now I’m eager to see how high that bar will go.”

Source: Boeing



7 Responses

  1. TerryG says

    FYI: To get a sense of scale, if you dig around at the source, there are pictures of the Phantom Ray mated to N905NA (one of the two Shuttle Carrier Boeing 747-100s) on it’s delivery flight.

    e.g. http://boeing.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=13&cat=25&item=1337

  2. Lawrence B. Crowell says

    It looks like a mini B-1 bomber. Only 178knots? Since it is turbojet powered I would think it could read 500 knots.

    LC

  3. tripleclean says

    @TG: Thanks for picture link helped me with scale. About same as X-45.
    @LC: Your right on the nose with speed, it might even be a little faster 600 knots because its really slippery. Also B-1(The Bone)/B-2(Spirt) easy and common mix match much like Osama/Obama seems to get mixed up even by veteran reporters lately.

    Would like to know weapons bay size and does it come with a tailhook?

    • TerryG says

      The reason for 178 knot speed limit would be that maiden test flights are conducted without raising the landing gear, so as not to tempt fate by overworking the hydraulic systems.

      Couldn’t find much data, but the Phantom Ray seems destined to be land based. It doesn’t have the fold-up wings of the Navy’s X-47B, so might not be out-fitted with a tail hook either.

      Uncertain about weapons bay size but since the Phantom Ray is about 4/5th the scale of the X-47B in length, wingspan and maximum takeoff weight, the maximum payload weight probably won’t exceed 1,600 kg or 3,600 lbs.

      Without any military contracts in hand, the Phantom Ray is being developed on Boeing’s own dime. It’s nice how they have faith in this UCAV’s future.

      • tripleclean says

        I would be great if it could carry a “special weapon” even better off a carrier. I forgot about folding wings and the reason for the X-47 ugly duck look.

    • hydrazine says

      I’d think it doesn’t and never will have a weapons bay or a tail hook. It’s a test bed version, like, 1.0, that is probably going to be used to work out things like avionics and basic operations, such as autonomous refueling and just generally staying autonomously out of the radar screens. Well, OK, maybe a symbolic, weapons bay look-alike, to show that it can actually carry something to a target. Looking at the photos I don’t see any room for much extra cargo. But I am no expert.

      It does look really cool, though, IMHO.

      Regards,
      /hydrazine

      • tripleclean says

        At what point do these UAV’s fall into a cruise missle treaty issue? Leave out the bomb bay?

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