On Tuesday, in a statement Boeing Co and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) said, they had completed the first flight test on a pilotless fighter jet, designed to operate in conjunction with crewed aircraft.
The fighter jet, dubbed as the “Loyal Wingman”, is the first military aircraft to be designed and manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years. The flight test was under the supervision of a Boeing test pilot who monitored it from a ground control station in South Australia.
The Australian government has invested $31 million (A$40 million) in development of the pilotless fighter jet, which according to Boeing can be customized for other global customers.
The Loyal Wingman is 38 feet long (11.6 meters) has a 2,000 nautical mile (3,704 km) range and has a nose that can be removed to fit various payloads. It can also act as a shield to help protect manned fighter jets.
The development marks defense contractors increasingly foraying into autonomous technology with militaries around the world look for cost effective solutions to maximize resources.
Earlier this year in January, Britain signed a $42 million contract with the Belfast unit of Spirit AeroSystems for a similar type of pilotless aircraft which is scheduled to undergo a trial flight test in the next three years.
During the Australian flight test, the pilotless Loyal Wingman took off under its own power, flew on a pre-determined route at different speeds and altitudes, demonstrating its prowess in functionality and design performance.
The Loyal Wingman will be used as a foundation for Boeing’s Airpower Teaming System, a service that is being developed for various global defense customers.
Additional Loyal Wingman aircraft are also currently being developed, with plans for teaming flights scheduled for later this year. Previously, Boeing had said, up to 16 of the Loyal Wingman jets could be teamed with a crewed aircraft for missions.