The Boeing Phantom Ray will start taxi tests in July ahead of first flight in late December, but the future of the unmanned strike aircraft after a one-year series of 10 flight tests remains uncertain.
Boeing has delayed taxi tests from the second quarter to July because the Phantom Ray's exhaust system had been diverted to a classified programme, says Daryl Davis, president of Boeing advanced systems. The exhaust has now been returned from the classified programme, which Davis described as technology tests to demonstrate reliability and maintainability, among other things.
Although the start of taxi testing has shifted three months, Boeing nevertheless plans to complete first flight on schedule in late December this year, he says.
Boeing has planned to conduct 10 flight tests with Phantom Ray to open the entire flight envelope.
© Tim Bicheno-Brown/Flightglobal.com
The programme can reuse several accomplishments from the X-45A programme, which flew in the first half of the last decade under the defunct Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) programme.
The X-45A technologies in Phantom Ray include failure modes for autonomous vehicles. Mission planning systems are also being reused.
Boeing, however, still is unable to answer questions about the programme's future. The Phantom Ray is designed to potentially match the US Air Force's requirements for the MQ-X contract, which could enter competition after fiscal year 2012, Davis says.
A scaled-up version of Phantom with twice the range also could become a contender for the USAF's future long-range strike requirement, he says.
Boeing and Lockheed Martin previously teamed to compete against Northrop for long-range strike contracts. That agreement however is now on hold, and is likely to be dropped, he says.
"Until we understand where the government is going to head I'm not sure the agreement is going to endure," Davis says. "At this point, I'd say the jury is still out on what we're going to do."
Lockheed's Skunk Works division confirms that the agreement with Boeing is on hold.
"We have been working closely with Boeing for the past two years to conduct research and development related to a next-generation bomber project," Lockheed says. "Currently, that work is on hold pending firm direction from the government regarding a future bomber acquisition strategy."