Boeing has unmanned vehicles that operate in the sea, across the ground, in the air and beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Unmanned vehicles can go places and do things traditional vehicles cannot, or where it is unsafe for humans. They are more economical and versatile than manned vehicles. From small and tactical to large and long endurance, or from high altitude to below sea level, Boeing (and its heritage companies) has provided for nearly 75 years the resources to achieve mission success for a wide range of customers.
The Condor was a revolutionary aircraft built entirely of all-bonded composite materials, designed for remote-controlled, high-altitude, long-endurance missions. During its 141-hour flight test program in 1988 and 1989, it set several records for piston-powered aircraft by reaching a top altitude of 67,028 feet (20,430 meters) and staying aloft for nearly two and one-half days.
Boeing developed two vehicles as technology demonstrators. The airplane successfully merged the latest advances of the time in aerodynamics, propulsion, materials and remote controls. In the long run, Condor laid the groundwork for more successful follow-on unmanned aerial vehicles. Click here to learn more.
In 1994, Boeing teamed with Lockheed Martin to design and build a stealthy unmanned reconnaissance plane called DarkStar for the U.S. Department of Defense Tier III Minus program. Boeing applied its expertise in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), gained over three decades of UAV experience, to develop the DarkStar’s wings and integrated avionics.
On March 29, 1996, DarkStar made its first flight. It reached an altitude of 5,000 feet (1.5 kilometers) and successfully executed a fully automated flight from takeoff to landing using the global positioning system. It operated at ranges greater than 500 nautical miles (926 kilometers) and was able to stay on station for more than eight hours at altitudes greater than 45,000 feet (13.7 kilometers).
In late January 1999, the Defense Department announced that the DarkStar UAV program had been terminated. Click here to learn more.
The Unmanned Little Bird H-6U is the unmanned variant of the AH-6i manned scout helicopter. Its unique design combines the autonomous flight capability, networked payloads and communications of an unmanned aerial vehicle with a combat-proven rotorcraft platform. The unmanned system provides over-the-horizon search, re-supply and retrograde, communications relay and surveillance capabilities. All with a low-risk approach, low operational costs and high flight readiness on a proven platform. Click here to learn more.
The Boeing Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) X-45 was the first highly autonomous, unmanned system specifically designed for combat operations in the network-centric environment of the 21st century. The swept wing, stealthy jet had had fully retractable landing gear and a composite, fiber-reinforced epoxy skin. There were two internal weapons bays in its fuselage.
In October 2006, after 64 unprecedented flights and many firsts in autonomous combat aviation, the two X-45A unmanned combat air vehicles built were sent to two prominent aviation museums to be permanently displayed. The Boeing design for the larger X-45C, went on to serve as the basis for the internally funded Phantom Ray Demonstrator, a liquid hydrogen-powered unmanned aircraft system. Click here to learn more.
In 1944, McDonnell won the contract to build the radio-controlled, rocket-propelled, air-to-surface Gargoyle missile for the U.S. Navy. The missile was intended to counter German-guided anti-ship glide bombs from carrier-based aircraft. Glide tests of the Gargoyle began in March 1945, followed by the first-powered flights in July. McDonnell produced 250 Gargoyles before production ended in mid-1947. Click here to read more.
Echo Ranger is an autonomous large-displacement unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV). The 18-foot-long (5.6-meter) UUV was originally used to capture high-resolution sonar images of seabeds in the Gulf of Mexico for the oil and gas industry. Boeing has conducted several mission demonstrations in the Pacific Ocean, off of Catalina Island in Southern California, and is now demonstrating Echo Ranger’s capabilities for underwater intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, harbor and waterway patrol for security threats, and environmental testing. Capable of diving to 10,000 feet (3,000 meters), Echo Ranger can be equipped with a variety of scientific instruments or payloads.
Echo Seeker is a fully autonomous unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) developed by Boeing’s Advanced Technology Program. The 32-foot-long vehicle provides ample payload capacity and energy for diving and operating at ocean depths to 20,000 feet (6,000 meters). Echo Seeker is equipped with sonar to enhance ocean-bottom mapping capabilities and has an internal payload capacity of about 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms). The vehicle can also accommodate payloads extending outside of its envelope. Echo Seeker enables ocean access capabilities beyond those of Echo Ranger, offering potential customers a larger UUV with increased depth, endurance and payload capabilities.