The Boeing [NYSE: BA] X-45A Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle, or UCAV, technology demonstration aircraft on May 22 made aerospace history by completing its first flight. This step marks the beginning of flight testing of the first unmanned system designed from inception for combat.
X-45A flew for 14 minutes at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California, reaching an airspeed of 195 knots and altitude of 7,500 feet. Flight characteristics and basic aspects of aircraft operations, particularly the command and control link between the aircraft and the mission-control station, were successfully demonstrated.
"This flight is a wonderful milestone for our UCAV team, every member of which I want to thank," said Boeing UCAV Program Manager Rich Alldredge. " DARPA, the Air Force, NASA and Boeing together are making UCAV a tremendous success."
The Boeing Phantom Works advanced research and development unit and the Boeing Military Aircraft and Missile Systems Unmanned Systems organization are developing UCAV for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, and the U.S. Air Force. Col. Michael Leahy, an Air Force officer working for DARPA, manages the program.
"This flight represents a significant jump in our quest to mature the technologies, processes and system attributes required to integrate UCAVs into the future Air Force," Leahy said. "UCAVs will effectively and affordably perform extremely hazardous missions, such as the suppression of enemy air defenses, while greatly reducing the risk our aircrews have to face."
Later this year a second X-45A will begin flying, leading to the start of multiaircraft flight-test demonstrations next year. Those coordinated flight tests are the technical heart of the program and the key to unlocking the transformational potential of this revolutionary weapon system. Further testing will continue to explore the boundaries of intelligent unmanned combat operations, culminating in fiscal 2006 with UCAVs and manned aircraft operating together during an exercise.
The operational UCAV system concept will be refined in parallel with X-45A flight testing. The X-45B fieldable prototype, now under development, will be larger and more capable than its predecessors. It will lay the foundation for an initial operational system toward the end of this decade.
In addition to the DARPA/Air Force UCAV, Boeing is developing a concept for the DARPA/U.S. Navy UCAV-N program. The company envisions a significant amount of subsystem and software commonality between the two programs, an arrangement that could reduce cost and risk associated with both efforts.
Boeing Unmanned Systems is part of Boeing Military Aircraft and Missile Systems, which designs, produces and provides follow-on support for fighters, bombers, transports, rotorcraft and weapons for the United States and its allies around the globe. The world's largest military aircraft manufacturer, Boeing has delivered more than 130,000 military aircraft to the U.S. government and international customers. Among emerging businesses are unmanned systems, as well as military aircraft that are based on the company's renowned commercial airplanes.