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Australia’s own loyal wingman to be ready for first flight this year

Australia's ATS drone
Photo: Boeing

Boeing Australia has completed major fuselage structural assembly for the Royal Australian Air Force’s first Loyal Wingman.

The aircraft is one of three prototypes that will be developed as a part of the program that will develop an aircraft that will use artificial intelligence in teaming with other manned and unmanned platforms.

The aircraft is envisaged as being able to undertake a wide range of missions including ISR, but will also be able to be used to shield manned assets such as the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters and Boeing E-7A Wedgetail early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft.

A similar program being developed by the US Air Force, the XQ-58A Walkyrie, is already in the testing phase.

“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 Australian team has applied digital engineering and advanced composite materials to achieve cost and agility goals for the 38-foot (11.7-meter) aircraft.

“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. “Boeing is progressing very well with its development and we look forward to seeing the final product in the coming months.”

BAE Systems Australia delivered hardware kits including flight control computers and navigation equipment while RUAG Australia delivered the landing gear system. Ferra Engineering delivered precision machine components and sub-assemblies to support the program and AME Systems who have delivered wiring looms to support the vehicle.

This first Loyal Wingman prototype will provide key lessons toward production of the ATS, which Boeing Australia is developing for the global defense market. Customers will be able to tailor ATS sensors and systems based on their own defense and industrial objectives.

Boeing says the next major 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. The aircraft is expected to complete its first flight this year.