Designed by Predator inventor Abe Karem, Boeing acquired the optimum speed rotor-powered A160 in 2005. Ten developmental A160s have been built for two customers so far -- the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Special Operations Command.
With the development stage now complete, Boeing had hoped to attract new orders for the record-setting aircraft, which remains the only unmanned helicopter to record an 18hr flight.
But the orders have not materialized. So Boeing decided to fund production of 21 white tail A160s, which the company can offer to sell or lease for military or civil operators starting in early 2011, says Ernie Wattam, program manager for the Boeing A160T Hummingbird.
Building production aircraft on speculation is rare in the manned military aircraft industry. But the concept has proved popular among manufacturers of unmanned air vehicles. Boeing's Insitu subsidiary also independently developed the smaller ScanEagle and Integrator UAS before selling the aircraft to various international militaries.