Boeing Australia has completed major fuselage structural assembly for the first of three Loyal Wingman prototypes. The first flight test of one of these aircraft, developed as part of the Loyal Wingman – Advanced Development Program in partnership with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), is scheduled for this year.
“This is an exciting milestone for the development program, and the Australian aerospace industry, as we progress with production of the first military aircraft to be developed in Australia in more than 50 years,” said Dr Shane Arnott, program director, Boeing Airpower Teaming System (ATS).
The aircraft is designed to use artificial intelligence in teaming with other manned and unmanned platforms. This first Loyal Wingman prototype will provide key lessons toward production of the ATS, which Boeing Australia is developing for the global defence market. Customers will be able to tailor ATS sensors and systems based on their own defence and industrial objectives.
“The partnership with Boeing is key to building our understanding of not just the operational implications for these sorts of vehicles, but also making us a smart customer as we consider options for manned-unmanned teaming in the coming decade,” said Air Commodore Darren Goldie, RAAF Director-General of Air Combat Capability.
Australian Industry participation has been critical to the rapid development of the Loyal Wingman program, which was unveiled only 12 months ago at Avalon 2019. Sixteen Australian industry players have made key component and sub-system deliveries to date including:
- BAE Systems Australia, who have delivered hardware kits including flight control computers and navigation equipment
- RUAG Australia, who have delivered the landing gear system
- Ferra Engineering, who have delivered precision machined components and sub-assemblies
- AME Systems, who have delivered wiring looms
The project integrates BAE Systems Australia’s unmanned flight vehicle management systems and flight vehicle simulation capability and its flight control computers and navigation equipment along with Boeing’s autonomous mission systems. This brings together the two leading Australian companies in this technology area, according to BAE Systems Australia Chief Executive Officer, Gabby Costigan.
Earlier versions of the unmanned and autonomous technologies contributed by BAE Systems Australia to this project have already supported Australian and UK Autonomy programs such as the Taranis, Mantis and Kingfisher UAS demonstrators. More recently, they have been integrated in some M113 armoured vehicles in support of the Australian Army’s Robotics and Autonomy Strategy activities.
The next major Loyal Wingman milestone will be weight on wheels, when the fuselage structure moves from the assembly jig to the aircraft’s own landing gear to continue systems installation and functional testing.