Attack of the drones

The Boeing X-45A Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle technology-demonstration aircraft – the first unmanned system designed from inception for combat – has completed its first flight.

The Boeing X-45A Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle, or UCAV, technology-demonstration aircraft on May 22 made aerospace history by completing its first flight.

X-45A flew for 14 minutes at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Centre 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 said to be demonstrated successfully.

The Boeing Phantom Works advanced research and development unit and the company’s Unmanned Systems organisation are developing UCAV for the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Later this year a second X-45A will begin flying, leading to the start of multi-aircraft flight-test demonstrations next year.

Further testing will continue to explore the boundaries of intelligent unmanned combat operations, culminating in 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 prototype, now under development, will be larger and more capable than its predecessors and 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/US Navy UCAV-N program.