Boeing Phantom Works recently conducted the first test-flight of its Phantom Ray Unmanned Airborne System UAS at
NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The Phantom Ray is Boeing-funded evolving technology demonstrator of an Unmanned Airborne System with a fighter jet size and capabilities. The project is a continuation of the now defunct Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Joint-Unmanned Combat Airborne System J-UCAS program that produced two variants of a Boeing Phantom Works proposal; the X-45A/B and X-45C prototypes. At the time Boeing foresaw that the X-45C J-UCAS could be employed for flying high risk missions without risking a pilot life thanks to remotely controlled operation provided through line-of-sight or satellite communication. Prior to the J-UCAS project termination in 2006, a X-45 had already demonstrated a single 250-lbs bomb being dropped from its internal bomb bay.
The April 26th first flight was characteristically limited to 17 minutes in duration, still allowing the aircraft to reach an altitude of 7,500 feet with a speed of 178 knots (204 mph).
The Phantom Ray provides a clean design emphasizing low observable ‘stealth’ radar signature characteristics on a flying wing with an arrow-shaped nose forming a straight line with the wings leading edge. The aircraft’s blended wing provides a high level of concealment for the single General Electric F404-GE-102D engine powering the aircraft, with an obvious ‘stealth’ purpose. The air intake and exhaust are masked by purposely-designed ducts covers. With an overall length of 36 ft (10,2 m) and a wingspan of 50 ft (15.2 m), the aircraft is capable of achieving a speed of mach 0.8 (614 mph, 988 km/h) and an operational ceiling of 40,000 ft. The General Electric F404-GE-102D provides high reliability and is provisioned for tactical responsiveness and efficiency in the 17,000 lbs thrust class, using Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) technology. It is part of the F404-GE-102 family of engines found on applications like South Korea ‘s T-50 trainer, Saab’s Gripen and even the Boeing F-18C/D.
With a clear combination of stealth, agility and autonomous operation, the Phantom Ray would usher in a new platform for penetrating heavily defended airspace of the future.