For the first time, Loyal Wingman, the unmanned combat aircraft developed by Boeing for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), rolled out under its own power. It sets a new milestone for the drone which is expected to take to the skies by the end of 2020.

On the runway, the aircraft reached a top speed of 26 kilometers per hour (16 miles per hour) and demonstrated its capacity to maneuver and stop. “The low-speed taxi enabled us to verify the function and integration of the aircraft systems, including steering, braking and engine controls, with the aircraft in motion,” commented Paul Ryder, Boeing Australia Flight Test manager.

The first of three prototypes of the Australian Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Program was presented by Boeing to the Royal Australian Air Force in May 2020. The Airpower Teaming System (ATS) had been spotted on a runway for the first time at an undisclosed location in late August 2020. 

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The first prototype of the stealth unmanned aerial vehicle known as the Loyal Wingman,  developed by Boeing Defence Australia, was spotted on a runway for the first time.
 

The 11.7-meter (38-foot) long unmanned aerial vehicle would be capable of providing fighter-like performance. Its range will be over 3,700 kilometers (2,000 nautical miles). While the armament has yet to be unveiled, it is already known that its missions will cover intelligence support, surveillance, and reconnaissance as well as electronic warfare.

Thanks to artificial intelligence, it should eventually be able to fly both autonomously or in support of other manned or unmanned aircraft, in swarms of four to six units. It could thus be integrated into a “system of systems”, one of the most sought after features of the upcoming generation of fighter jets.

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A swarm of small, fast, cockpitless fighter jets are flying in a tight circle around an F-22 Raptor, reacting to its every move, waiting for a command. They will scout ahead, attack or sacrifice themselves if needed, relying on their superhuman reaction time and precision to execute manoeuvres that human pilots would never manage to do. This is the way many nations envision the air combat of the future. But why?