Boeing’s Loyal Wingman AI Drone Takes to the Sky for the First Time

Boeing Loyal Wingman in flight 4 photos
Photo: Boeing
Boeing Loyal Wingman in flightBoeing Loyal Wingman in flightBoeing Loyal Wingman in flight
Australia is not exactly the place people usually associate with aircraft making, and for a good reason. Over the past half a century, not a single military aircraft was designed there. That changed in 2019 when Boeing’s local division announced the Loyal Wingman.
The fancy name is actually a descriptor, as it precisely indicates what the aircraft is supposed to do: fly in support of crewed aircraft or troops on the ground, performing a variety of duties, from surveillance and reconnaissance to electronic warfare. It can fly either on its own or under the control of a pilot on the ground.

The drone took to the sky for the first time at the Woomera Range Complex in South Australia at an unspecified date, under the supervision of a Boeing test pilot. We are not told how long the flight lasted, but the aerospace company does say the Loyal Wingman flew on a pre-determined route at different speeds and altitudes.

“The Loyal Wingman’s first flight is a major step in this long-term, significant project for the Air Force and Boeing Australia, and we’re thrilled to be a part of the successful test,” said in a statement Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts, Royal Australian Air Force Head of Air Force Capability.

“The Loyal Wingman project is a pathfinder for the integration of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence to create smart human-machine teams. Through this project we are learning how to integrate these new capabilities to complement and extend air combat and other missions.”

Once testing is completed (no timeframe was provided), the Loyal Wingman will enter production in the state of Queensland. Also known as the Boeing Airpower Teaming System (BATS), it will roll off the production lines as a 38-feet(11.7-m) long machine capable of traveling 2,000 nautical miles (2,300 miles or 3,700 km) in a single outing.

The thing will be packed with sensors and artificial intelligence to govern its decisions. Other similar machines will be made by the end of the year and then tested together.

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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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