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Boeing presents prototypes of the Loyal Wingman combat drone

It has been more than 50 years since an aircraft was designed and produced in Australia. Boeing has now presented the Loyal Wingmann prototype, which Australian industry is also involved in developing. The first test flight should take place this year.

The Loyal Wingman is still on the ground, but he should take off by the end of the year.

Photo: Boeing Australia

The US aircraft manufacturer Boeing is fighting its way through turbulence and has a success story: The Loyal Wingman prototype has made good progress and is scheduled to take off this year. This is an important signal for Boeing. Because there is a lot of money in the new combat drone. The company has never invested so much in an unmanned aircraft outside the United States.

35 Australian industrial partners are involved

The combat drone for the Royal Australian Air Force is the first of three planned prototypes to be built as part of the Australian Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Program. At the same time, it is the basis for the Boeing Airpower Teaming System (ATS), which is being developed for the global defense market.

Boeing is by no means doing the work alone. The Americans work hand in hand with more than 35 industrial companies from four Australian states. "This project is an excellent example of how collaboration can foster innovation - and what can be achieved through close cooperation with the defense industry," says Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, head of the Royal Australian Air Force.

The drones have artificial intelligence on board

The Loyal Wingman combat drone is 11.6 meters long and has a range of around 3,700 kilometers. Translated, the name means something like "loyal companion", which is the most important function. The drones are intended to accompany manned aircraft, as protection and possibly as additional transport units. The Airpower Teaming System (ATS) is an important key here. Equipped with artificial intelligence, it should enable communication between several flying drones, which work as an intelligent team with other military aircraft and supplement missions in the air. ATS is said to have numerous functions, including a tactical early warning system.

Boeing management believes that this prototype has a niche in the market. Because the global demand for high-performance, but inexpensive unmanned aircraft is high. For the design, Boeing used a digital twin, i.e. a certain type of simulation software, to develop the structures, systems and functions and to adapt them to the requirements - without the development costs skyrocketing. The Loyal Wingman is currently being tested on the ground.

Boeing has eliminated the financial bottlenecks for the time being

Just a few days ago, the Boeing Corporation announced that it wanted to forego financial aid from the US state. Like many other companies, Boeing is also suffering severely from the corona pandemic. The flight business is almost idle, which is why the airlines naturally avoid ordering new machines. The aircraft manufacturer's sales have developed correspondingly poorly - the quarterly loss is according to its own information at 641 million dollars. That said, sales slumped about 26% in the first quarter of 2020.

But Boeing has managed to raise $ 25 billion on the capital market through bonds. According to the company, the demand was so high that the bonds were increased. Originally only a sum of a maximum of 15 billion dollars was planned. The bonds have terms of between three and 40 years. Particularly in the current crisis, this good result says a lot about the trust that donors have in the future of the group. After all, the reputation of the Boeing 737 MAX had been badly damaged after the safety problems. The machines of this type are still on the ground. It is unclear when they can start again.

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  • Nicole gap

    Nicole L├╝cke does science journalism for research centers and universities, reports on medical congresses and looks after customer magazines for energy providers. She is a shareholder of content qualities. Your topics: energy, technology, sustainability, medicine / medical technology.