Australia’s Loyal Wingman Flies For the First Time

 - March 2, 2021, 5:31 AM
The undercarriage of the Loyal Wingman remained extended throughout its March 1 first flight. (Still from Boeing video)

Boeing Australia and the Royal Australian Air Force have flown the first example of the Loyal Wingman unmanned aircraft. The fighter-like vehicle undertook its March 1 maiden flight at the RAAF Woomera base in South Australia, from where a number of UAV trials have previously taken place, notably BAE Systems’ Taranis unmanned combat air vehicle demonstrator.

The Loyal Wingman flew a pre-determined route at varying speeds and altitudes under the supervision of a Boeing test pilot at a ground station within the range complex. Basic flight functionality and performance were verified during the flight, which followed a series of ground tests. The vehicle had begun high-speed taxi tests at Woomera in December.

“The Loyal Wingman’s first flight is a major step in this long-term, significant project for the Air Force and Boeing Australia, and we’re thrilled to be a part of the successful test,” said Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts, the RAAF's Head of Air Force Capability. “The Loyal Wingman project is a pathfinder for the integration of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence to create smart human-machine teams. Through this project we are learning how to integrate these new capabilities to complement and extend air combat and other missions.”

Loyal Wingman is the cornerstone of Boeing Australia’s Airpower Teaming System that is under development for a number of global defense customers. The program was unveiled in February 2019 at the country's Avalon airshow. The industrial effort involves more than 35 Australian teams, while leveraging the parent company’s developments in model-based engineering and digital twin technology.

The first Loyal Wingman was rolled out in May 2020. Additional air vehicles are now in build and are expected to become available for teaming flight trials later in 2021. The Airpower Teaming System involves uncrewed air vehicles flying in teams with both crewed and other uncrewed assets to extend and complement mission capabilities.

Boeing is one of three companies—along with General Atomics and Kratos—that were awarded contracts in December 2020 to build missionized flying prototypes as part of the U.S. Air Force’s Skyborg program for uncrewed aircraft. Boeing intends to use the Loyal Wingman as the basis for its Skyborg prototype.

Other nations are pursuing the loyal wingman concept, notably in Europe, where France, Germany, and Spain are developing what are termed “remote carriers” under the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) initiative. The UK also has its own FCAS program that includes a vehicle known as the Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA). On January 25 the Ministry of Defence, acting on behalf of the RAF’s Rapid Capabilities Office, awarded Team Mosquito a £30 million ($42 million) contract to develop a LANCA prototype to begin flight tests before the end of 2023. The winning team is led by Spirit AeroSystems' facility in Northern Ireland, which has partnered with Northrop Grumman UK.

Boeing Australia and the RAAF released some video of the Loyal Wingman's first flight.