Boeing's Next-Gen Drone 'Phantom Ray' Takes Maiden Flight

Despite it's name, Phantom Ray is no ghost.

The newest unmanned airborne system (UAS) from Boeing took to the skies April 27 at Edwards Air Force Base in California for its first flight, the company announced Thursday.

With a top speed of 614 mph, the Phantom Ray has a 50-foot wingspan and measures 36 feet long and resembles a giant boomerang -- and lacks an obvious cockpit for a pilot, of course. The 17-minute flight was deemed a success, said program manager Craig Brown.

“We were confident it would fly and perform well," Brown said in a statement released by the company. “It feels great to have this first one under our belt.”

The Phantom Ray took off at 9:05 a.m. PST and climbed to an altitude of 7,500 feet to demonstrate basic airworthiness. The unmanned aircraft, operating autonomously, gracefully banked and turned as it completed its racetrack flight path over the dry lake beds at Edwards.

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“It was a beautiful sight,” said Teri Finchamp, Phantom Ray’s manufacturing lead. “I’ve been part of this program since the beginning, and while I’ve imagined this day a hundred times, nothing can compare to actually seeing the Phantom Ray in the air.”

Boeing announced the Phantom Ray almost exactly a year ago. It evolved from Boeing's original unmanned aircraft program, called the X-45 A and C. Boeing has said the Phantom Ray uses advanced "fly-by-mouse" technology. That means when it's in the air, the Phantom Ray will be monitored by someone safely on the ground miles away at a computer.

Brown, a former Air Force F-16 pilot, said the craft's first flight went as smoothly as the March taxi tests. “Watching it taxi and now fly, I think with the autonomy we’ve demonstrated we are definitely seeing the future of unmanned flight,” he said.

Phantom Ray will conduct additional flights in the coming weeks.