A Boeing-led Australian industry team has presented the first of three prototype unmanned Loyal Wingman aircraft to the Royal Australian Air Force, a historic milestone for the company and the Commonwealth, which has invested some $40 million in the project. The program now moves into ground testing, followed by taxi testing and a maiden flight later this calendar year. Manned-unmanned teaming trials will start after this.
The Loyal Wingman uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to extend the capabilities of manned and unmanned platforms. Boeing is eyeing a global market for highly capable but extremely affordable unmanned aircraft. Australia’s Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Program also serves as the foundation for the Boeing Airpower Teaming System (ATS) being developed for the global defence market.
To meet the goals of performance and affordability, the aircraft was engineered using a digital twin to model its structures, systems, capabilities and full life-cycle requirements. The airframe also leverages a composites manufacturing technique pioneered in Australia for the Boeing 787 airliner program, incorporating Boeing’s largest-ever resin-infused single composite pieces, the upper and lower wing surfaces.
It is the first fixed-wing aircraft to be designed, engineered and manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years and is Boeing’s largest investment in an unmanned aircraft outside the USA. The prototype has seen design and manufacturing input from 35 Australian companies.
BAE Systems Australia provides the UAV flight vehicle management solution and simulation capability for the Loyal Wingman, as well as flight control computers and navigation equipment. BAE Systems Australia has worked with Boeing on a number of Australian aerospace and UAV projects over the past 60 years, including the Jindivik and Turana Target Drones, GTV Glide Bomb and the Ikara unmanned torpedo delivery system.
Boeing was also a valued contributor to the development of the BAE Systems Australia’s Nulka and a supplier of leading edge composite technology and parts for the BAE Systems-led Australian component of the NATO Evolved SeaSparrow Missile (ESSM) program.
BAE Systems Australia’s relationship with Boeing on the Loyal Wingman project will help grow the company’s Autonomous Systems and Advanced Payload groups with the creation of more than 50 jobs across engineering and manufacturing in Victoria and South Australia with scope for further work generated by export opportunities.
Australia’s Chief of Air Force (CAF), Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, said the rollout of the first aircraft was a significant milestone in the Boeing Loyal Wingman project.
“This project is an excellent example of innovation through collaboration and what can be achieved working together with defence industry. This demonstrates the importance of the relationship Air Force has with Boeing Australia and defence industry more broadly. I look forward to exploring the capabilities this aircraft may bring to our existing fleet in the future.”
“We are proud to take this significant step forward with the Royal Australian Air Force and show the potential for smart unmanned teaming to serve as a force multiplier,” said Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Autonomous Systems for Boeing Defense, Space & Security. “We look forward to getting the aircraft into flight testing and proving out the unmanned teaming concept. We see global allies with those same mission needs, which is why this program is so important to advancing the development of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System.”