Unmanned aircraft took a leap forward Monday when Boeing unveiled the Phantom Ray -- an advanced robotic craft that the company calls a test bed for advanced technologies.
Describing it as a great day for Boeing, the company took the wraps off its new plane at an event in St. Louis. The fighter-sized aircraft has been in development for about two years by Boeing's Phantom Works division and is described as cutting edge in the world of unmanned aircraft. The developers say it can carry 4,500 pounds of payload.
“Phantom Ray offers a host of options for our customers as a test bed for advanced technologies, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; suppression of enemy air defenses; electronic attack and autonomous aerial refueling -- the possibilities are nearly endless,” said Dennis Muilenburg, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security.
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. Program manager Craig Brown said, "if you think about it in unmanned systems, it's not the idea to replace a pilot per say, its to be able to augment the war fighters mission."
The Phantom Ray evolved from Boeing's original unmanned aircraft program -- the X-45 A and C. Boeing says 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.
"If any changes are needed in the flight, it's done by a computer program -- no joysticks to alter courses," says Brown. Teri Finchamp helped build the actual prototype plane that was unveiled at the ceremony, reports Fox2Now.com.
"I call her my baby," said Teri. "It's a wonderful sense of pride that I have of the team that took this from cradle to grave," she added.
The Phantom Ray's first test flight will come in December. Then, there could be up to ten test flights after that. The eventual hope for Boeing is that the Phantom Ray will be sold to agencies like the U.S. Department of Defense.
"My hope is that we get her in the air and she proves that she can do what we know it can," said Teri.
Boeing says it fronted the money itself to build the prototype. At this point it's unclear when Boeing might be able to actually sell a Phantom Ray or how much one would cost a buyer.