AUVSI: Boeing makes progress with unmanned programmes

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Boeing (booth 2600) is at the show celebrating the first anniversary of the creation of its dedicated unmanned division as it makes progress with a plethora of unmanned air vehicle programs.

Development work on the A160 Hummingbird (see cutaway drawing this issue, P16-17) continues apace, with the company confident that it can extend the helicopter's endurance beyond the 18h already demonstrated.

"We continue to work on refinements that we think will get it over 20h," says Boeing Military Aircraft director of unmanned airborne systems Vic Sweberg.

He says the loss of a US Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate-owned Hummingbird late last month is "still under investigation. You learn from these things and move on."

He adds: "It was in flight and went into autorotation. There were no injuries or fire on the ground, but it was pretty much a complete loss."

Meanwhile, low-speed taxi tests of Boeing's Phantom Ray demonstrator have been carried out in St. Louis, and the aircraft is due to be transported to the Dryden Flight Research Center atop NASA's Boeing 747 Space Shuttle transporter aircraft for an expected first flight in December.

The Phantom Ray will be used to test technology that could be used to meet future US Air Force and US Navy requirements, known as MQ-X and Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) respectively.

"We don't anticipate MQ-X in the near-term at all," says Sweberg. "UCLASS came up rather swiftly. We think that the Navy has identified a critical need, but they don't have a definitive set of requirements yet.

"We're pretty confident that Phantom Ray as it is today will not be what we offer lock stock and barrel for MQ-X and UCLASS," he adds.

Sweberg says the "current plan" for the first flight of the Phantom Eye high-altitude, long-endurance demonstrator is "early in the first-quarter 2011 timeframe."