The Loyal Wingman drone, developed by Boeing for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), successfully completed its maiden flight. The test flight took place at the RAAF Woomera Range Complex, in South Australia. 

Operated from a ground control station by a Boeing test pilot, the aircraft took off under its own power before flying a predetermined route at different speeds and altitudes to evaluate its flight behavior and “demonstrate the performance of the Airpower Teaming System design.”

“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 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.”

Following the successful maiden flight, the Australian Ministry of Defense announced that an additional three Loyal Wingman aircraft would be ordered with an investment of $89 million, bringing up the total fleet to six test aircraft. 

Boeing plans to carry out teaming flights involving multiple Loyal Wingman aircraft later in 2021. In December 2020, the manufacturer completed flight tests with five AI-controlled jets operating in formation at the new Queensland Flight Test Range in Cloncurry, Australia.

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Boeing completed flight tests with five AI-controlled jets operating in formation at the new Queensland Flight Test Range in Cloncurry, Australia.
 

The Loyal Wingman will compete in the Skyborg competition, an initiative of the United States Air Force to select an unmanned combat aerial vehicle intended to assist a manned fighter. “Obviously the U.S. market is a big market. That is a focus for us, achieving some sort of contract or program of record in the United States,” Boeing airpower teaming program director Shane Arnott told Reuters. 

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In the closing days of September 2020, the Skyborg Vanguard program completed its second phase of awards and now includes 13 companies competing for a design of the loyal wingman – a drone that will accompany U.S. fighter jets into battle.