Boeing Frontiers
June 2002 
Volume 01, Issue 02 
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Phantom Works
X-45A makes HISTORY

Successful first flight at Dryden paves the way for more tests, more UCAVs


X-45AThe Boeing X-45A Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle took to the skies May 22 above the Mojave Desert, marking the maiden flight of the world’s first such plane built specifically for combat.

The successful flight of the X-45A technology demonstrator clears the way for further testing, new refinements and a larger, more capable B-model already under development.

The X-45A has a stealthy, tailless airframe with a 34-foot wingspan. It weighs 8,000 pounds empty and will carry a variety of precision strike munitions including the Small Diameter Bomb and the GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition. Other smaller unmanned air vehicles, which have been flown operationally in military operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Afghanistan and elsewhere, were originally designed for surveillance and later adapted to carry weapons.

Boeing Phantom Works and Military Aircraft and Missile Systems’ Unmanned Systems organization are developing UCAV for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the U.S. Air Force.

X-45AU.S. Air Force Col. Mike Leahy, UCAV program manager for DARPA, likened the test flight to “one lap around the Indy 500.” The aircraft, he said, was “rock solid and stable all the way through.”

“This flight represents a significant jump in our quest to mature the technologies, processes and system attributes required to integrate UCAVs into the future Air Force,” Leahy said. “UCAVs will effectively and affordably perform extremely hazardous missions, such as the suppression of enemy air defenses, while greatly reducing the risk our aircrews have to face.”

Later this year, a second X-45A will begin flying, leading to the start of flight-test demonstrations of multiple aircraft next year.

Those coordinated flight tests are the technical heart of the program and the key to unlocking the potential of this revolutionary weapon system, Leahy said.

X-45AFurther testing will continue to explore the boundaries of intelligent unmanned combat operations, culminating in fiscal 2006 with UCAVs and manned aircraft operating together during an exercise.

The operational UCAV system concept will be refined in parallel with X-45A flight testing, Leahy said.

The X-45B fieldable prototype, now under development, will be larger and more capable than its predecessors. It will lay the foundation for an initial operational system toward the end of this decade.

In addition to the DARPA/Air Force UCAV, Boeing is developing a concept for the DARPA/U.S. Navy UCAV-N program. The company envisions a significant amount of subsystem and software commonality between the two programs, an arrangement that could reduce cost and risk associated with both efforts.

Ecstatic crowd watches a ‘flawless’ flight

“It’s in the air!”

The message rippled through the crowd and soon turned to cheers and applause as the Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle technology-demonstration aircraft took to the sky over the Mojave Desert in Southern California — and made aerospace history.

It was the first time that the X-45A, a 27-foot-long aircraft designed specifically for combat, had flown. The U.S. Air Force described the test flight as “flawless,” and Boeing characterized it as a “wonderful milestone.”

The success of the first flight of the X-45A was especially savored by the invited onlookers around the Rogers Dry Lakebed at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

They had been waiting with growing anticipation for more than four days because of weather-related delays. Continuing winds had caused the team to postpone the flight twice.

Finally, on May 22, the aircraft and the team were ready. Fourteen minutes after takeoff, the sleek, white, unmanned aircraft was back on the ground.

Boeing program manager Rich Alldredge said the flight went exactly as the team had expected and seen in many simulations.

With its landing gear down throughout the flight, the aircraft reached airspeed of 195 knots and an altitude of 7,500 feet, and essentially did a systems check. The craft’s bank angle never exceeded 20 degrees, said Alldredge. Flight characteristics and basic aspects of aircraft operations, particularly the command and control link between the aircraft and the mission-control station, were successfully demonstrated.

“This flight is a wonderful milestone for our UCAV team, every member of which I want to thank,” said Alldredge. “DARPA, the Air Force, NASA and Boeing together are making UCAV a tremendous success.”
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