Boeing Australia has announced they have completed the first assembly of the Loyal Wingman drone as part of the Advanced Development Program with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
The Australian team applied digital engineering and used advanced composite materials to achieve their cost and manoeuvrability goals.
The Loyal Wingman is an 11-metre ATS is an unmanned combat flight vehicle with a range of over 3,200 kilometres. It’s designed as a “force multiplier” in air combat, engaging the enemy in electronic warfare, intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance, and having an ability to rapidly change roles. It can fly alongside manned aircraft in an independent or support role.
The Loyal Wingman concept was first unveiled in Geelong, Victoria in March 2019 at the Avalon International Airshow and went into production shortly after.
“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 of Boeing Airpower Teaming System (ATS).
Air Commodore Darren Goldie, RAAF Director-General of Air Combat Capability, said the partnership with Boeing is key to the Air Force’s understanding of operational implications and broadens options for manned-unmanned teaming in air operations.
“Boeing is progressing very well with its development and we look forward to seeing the final product in the coming months,” Air Commodore Goldie said.
In addition to the Loyal Wingman, Boeing’s Australian team have made rapid progress thanks in part to industry participation. BAE Systems Australia delivered hardware kits including flight control computers and avionics systems; RUAG Australia provided landing gear; Ferra Engineering delivered precision machine components and sub-assembly units; and AME Systems supplied wiring looms to support the vehicle’s internal electronics.
The next major milestone for completion will be the “weight on wheels” phase, when the fuselage structure moves from the assembly jig and is supported by the aircraft’s own landing gear. Further components and testing will continue from this stage.
Boeing expects The Loyal Wingman to take its first flight this year. The ATS Loyal Wingman is expected to fly support sorties with the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The Loyal Wingman is part of a greater overhaul of Australia’s defence capabilities. The Coalition Government aims to restore defence spending to 2% of GDP by 2020-21 as part of a $200 billion investment. The initiative currently has bi-partisan support. This project is part of “Defence Project 6014 Phase 1.”