Home Air Australia now has five ATS loyal wingman UAVs under construction

Australia now has five ATS loyal wingman UAVs under construction

Boeing ATS loyal wingman UAV for Royal Australian Air Force
Photo: Australian defense ministry

Boeing Australia says its Melbourne facility recently started work on the fifth of overall six Airpower Teaming System (ATS) aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force, as the program continues its ground and flight testing and works to establish a final assembly facility in Toowoomba, Queensland.

The 38 feet long (11.7m) uncrewed aircraft, designed to fly and fight alongside crewed assets, is Australia’s first sovereign-designed and produced military combat aircraft in over 50 years.

The first ATS rolled out of the Melbourne factory in May 2020, which is also home to Boeing Aerostructures Australia and Boeing Australia’s R&D facilities. The site called on its roots from heritage companies Government Aircraft Factory and Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation as well as its commercial airplane experience to design the air vehicle and production system.

ATS first flew in March this year, while actual teaming flights, during which the system will leverage artificial intelligence to coordinate flight with a manned aircraft were also scheduled for this year.

The loyal wingman UAV is envisioned as being capable of undertaking a range of missions including ISR, but will also 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.

With a range of over 3,700km, the aircraft will be used as a force-multiplier, helping to project power forward while keeping manned capabilities out of harm’s way.

“We approached the design of the air vehicle and production system together with a “design for cost” philosophy,” said Andrew Glynn, director of Airpower Teaming System Vehicle Design and Production. “While we’ve developed a clean sheet design featuring many new technologies, we’ve also made smart decisions by incorporating off-the-shelf components and leveraging digital engineering to optimise both speed-to-market and design producibility.”

“By collaborating with our Australian industry team, including RUAG Australia and Ferra Engineering, throughout the design process we’ve been able to incorporate ‘design for manufacture’ features across all air vehicle components and sub-systems,” he said.

The Airpower Teaming System team also took advantage of Melbourne’s commercial manufacturing aircraft experience on Boeing 787 wings’ trailing edge. The carbon fiber technology enables the components to be cured without a traditional autoclave.

“Our team has produced Boeing’s largest resin-infused single composite components for the Loyal Wingman leveraging proven technology,” said Adnan Raghdo, director and Chief Engineer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes Fabrication, Composite Capability. “Extensive computational modelling was used up front to simulate and optimize the manufacturing process which enabled ‘virtual learning’ ahead of the first part.”