Boeing Expands The Test Program Of The Loyal Wingman Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for Australia

Loyal Wingman
The Airpower Teaming System unmanned aircraft photographed during its second flight. (Photo: Australian MoD via Boeing)

A second aircraft joined the flight test campaign, while the first one performed its second flight.

Boeing Australia recently announced that it has expanded the flight-test program of the Airpower Teaming System, also known as Loyal Wingman, that it is being developed together with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Two unmanned aircraft successfully completed separate test flights at the Woomera Range Complex, including the second flight of the first ATS aircraft and the maiden flight of the second aircraft built.

The flight tests of aircraft one included for the first time the landing gear cycling operation, following the first flight with the landing gear fixed in the extended position as common for the maiden flight of new aircraft types. RUAG Australia and BAE Systems Australia supported the test, with the former being the supplier of the landing gear systems and the latter being in charge of the design, supply and support of the flight control and navigation systems tested as part of the flights. The aircraft demonstrated a range of key characteristics that will help the further expansion of the flight envelope.

The second Loyal Wingman unmanned aircraft also completed its maiden flight. No further details were provided by the company, other than saying that the flight was successful. “It is so exciting seeing two aircraft in the air as the Loyal Wingman continues to excel in the flight-test program,” said Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts, RAAF Head of Air Force Capability. “This opens up significant capability agility for Air Force, particularly with features such as the reconfigurable nose. We’re heavily engaged in the payload development and the element of surprise that it gives us in the battlespace. You never really know what’s in the nose.”

As mentioned in our past articles about the Boeing ATS here at The Aviationist, one of the key features of the unmanned aircraft is an 8.5 ft (2.6 m) long modular nose cone with 9000 cubic inches internal volume to house different payloads. The entire nose can be swapped quickly according to the mission’s needs and also to the customer’s needs. Boeing states on its website that the ATS will integrate sensor packages onboard to support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, tactical early warning missions and more.

In the press release about the Loyal Wingman’s latest milestones, Boeing mentioned that the development teams gathered aircraft performance data throughout the flight-test missions that will be used to inform and refine the digital twin of the Airpower Teaming System, with the goal of accelerating the aircraft’s development where possible. As the digital twin models the system’s structure, systems and the entire lifecycle, from design and development to production and sustainment, and contributes to speed of development and first-time quality.

The first two Airpower Teaming System unmanned aircraft photographed at RAAF Woomera Airfield. (Photo: Boeing)

“We’re in a steady rhythm of flight testing on the way to mission and operational testing, enabling Boeing Australia, RAAF and our Australian industry team of more than 35 companies to progressively advance the flight characteristics and capabilities of the uncrewed teaming system,” said Glen Ferguson, director of Boeing Airpower Teaming System – Australia and International. “I’d like to extend my thanks to our capability partner BAE Systems Australia, and to RUAG Australia for their specific roles in this latest test block.”

The first batch of Loyal Wingman aircraft are serving as the foundation for the Boeing Airpower Teaming System. While initially only three aircraft were being built, after the first flight in February, the RAAF signed a new contract for three additional aircraft, bringing the total to six aircraft. The contract will support the maturation of the aircraft design, evolution of current and future payloads, and create the sustainment system for the aircraft in operations. Boeing Australia confirmed that the fifth ATS aircraft is already in production.

In September, Boeing announced a new manufacturing facility for the Loyal Wingman at Wellcamp Airport in Toowoomba, Queensland. The facility will be in charge of the manufacture of part of the aircraft as well as completing the final assembly. The initial development is set to take place within a year from the announcement, but it is not yet known when the completed facility will be operational. Meanwhile, the production activities will continue at the company’s facility in Melbourne.

While the Loyal Wingman is designed primarily for the RAAF, the final version of the ATS will be destined to the global defense market and custom tailored to the client’s own defense and industrial objectives. Confirming the intention to pitch the system to other customers, Boeing will showcase the Loyal Wingman at the 2021 Dubai Airshow this month. Boeing’s exhibit in Dubai will highlight other recent defense products including the F-15EX Eagle II fighter jet and T-7A Red Hawk.

Boeing is also set to build an unspecified number of ATS aircraft for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) as part of a contract to build prototype airframes for the Skyborg program. Boeing is one of the companies, together with General Atomics and Kratos, that has been selected for the prototyping phase, but a timeline for the deliver of the prototypes has not been disclosed.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.