Next stage of demonstrator development to involve multiple vehicle co-ordinated flight
Boeing's X-45A unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV)demonstrator will release a precision-guided bomb from its internal weapons bay for the first time in late March or early April.
The launch, to hit a ground target, follows a successful unguided bomb drop on 20 March, and earlier test flights on 11 and 14 March. These saw the aircraft fly at its maximum demonstration envelope, Mach 0.75 at 35,000ft (10,670m), over NASA's Dryden flight research centre at Edwards AFB, California. The UCAV opened and closed its weapon bay door and transmitted a stored synthetic aperture radar image to a ground station during the initial flights.
Boeing says development of the technology demonstrator is going well. "We're knocking down milestones one after another. We've flown it four times in recent days, which I think is more often than at any other time."
The next stage of the X-45A's development will involve multiple- vehicle co-ordinated flight. This will initially involve a piloted Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star flying with one of Boeing's two X-45A demonstrators, but not in formation. The T-33 will also control the X-45A for part of the flight. If this is successful, the two X-45As will fly at the same time, although not in formation. How the multiple vehicle co-ordinated flights will develop from there has yet to be determined, says Boeing.
The most recent weapon door and munitions release tests formed part of a Block 2 software upgrade to the X-45 system. Block 2 testing is being conducted under the new US Air Force/Navy Joint Unmanned Combat Air System programme (Flight International, 18-24 November 2003). This and future blocks will verify the software that will operate on Boeing's UCAV if it is selected for service. Its prototype, the X-45C, will use the software now being verified for its maiden flight in mid-2006.
ROB COPPINGER / LONDON
Source: Flight International