Boeing has breathed new life into an old project by adding some new technology and thinking to the mix and voilà, the unmanned Phantom Ray is born, based on the company’s X-45 experimental aircraft.
The aerospace giant says that it believes that it can get the futuristic Phantom Ray demonstrator into the air by late 2010. The unmanned Phantom Ray, which looks a bit like the stealth fighter, is being built as a test bed for advanced air systems. The test program currently being considered calls for ten flights over a half a year, taking it to mid-2011, according to Boeing. The test missions include surveillance, attack, and autonomous aerial refueling.
The basic design for the Phantom Ray comes from the X-45 project, done under the auspices of the Pentagon’s Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS). That program went through three phases, from the X-45A to the X-45-C, and ended in 2006. The X-45 project was funded by DARPA, the Air Force, and the Navy but the Phantom Ray project is being paid for internally by Boeing.
The X-45, as pictured above, is based on the flying wing concept and was completely unmanned, as will be the Phantom Ray. In the earliest phase of the project, the X-45A flew 64 times in the three years beginning in 2002. Although never flown, the much larger X-45C was shown in full-scale model form at the Farnborough International Air Show in July 2004.
The project will be run by the Boeing Phantom Works. Darryl Davis, president of the Works, said, “Boeing’s goals for the Phantom Ray program clearly demonstrate our commitment to rapid prototyping and are an important part of the company’s efforts to be a leader in the unmanned aircraft business. We have mobilized our assets to continue the tremendous potential we developed under J-UCAS, and now will fully demonstrate that capability.”
“What is particularly exciting about Phantom Ray is that we will incorporate the latest technologies into the superb X-45C airframe design,” said Dave Koopersmith, vice president of Boeing Advanced Military Aircraft, a division of Phantom Works. “As we gradually expand the vehicle’s flight envelope, potential users will have access to a full range of unique capabilities that only this type of autonomous platform can provide.”