August 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 4 
Cover Story

Boeing brainpower creates technology that changes future of flight

Boeing brainpower creates technology that changes future of flight

It seemed an impossible goal: Create software and a network of systems for an unmanned aircraft that can engage in highly complex, yet-to-be-determined combat missions. But Boeing people, thanks to their brainpower and teamwork, have developed a software system for the Boeing Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems X-45 program that will dramatically alter the future of flight.

A dedicated team of systems engineers, software designers, mission planners and test pilots, among others, took on the challenge. Within a short time frame they created and tested software implementing a range of critical elements that enable combat mission management and planning.

When the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awarded Boeing the Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle contract in 1999, Boeing structured the program as a series of demonstrations that evolved into four phases, or blocks—gradually increasing mission functionalities in the autonomous system. This led to four major phases of software development, testing and associated flight demonstrations, including logic and decision making, human systems integration, sensor and communications planning, command and control, auto routing, and flight planning.

For Gary Little, Boeing J-UCAS program deputy for mission systems software, watching the X-45A in flight brings the concept to reality.

“The X-45 program took on aggressive challenges with the schedule, and the progress we’ve made—for the X-45A to hit functionality targets—is gratifying to see,” said Little, who has been in the mission systems engineering field for 38 years. “The X-45 is a huge step forward—allowing the operator to exercise more difficult tasks and have software systems supporting the job.”

The software behind the UCAV is a game changer. “This is one of the most fun programs in terms of technology we’re doing. Boeing’s X-45 team is doing things that no one has done before. Inventing the state of the art is a challenge, and it’s exciting that we’re moving the frontier forward,” Little said.

The advanced capabilities of the software developed and tested on the X-45A will transition to the X-45C, in addition to a new set of requirements. The X-45 team will continue its work to bring technologyto the next level in the X-45C—and continue to make history with unmanned flight.

—Katherine Sopranos

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