We’ve already showed you Northrop Group’s stealth drone, the X-47B (watch here). Now Boeing has entered the fray with its Phantom Ray, a stealth-style drone that just completed its inaugural test flight at Andrew’s Air Force Base. But the Phantom ups the ante: instead of being just an unmanned drone controlled by remote control, it can be controlled by a computer.
The LA Times explains:
Boeing Co.‘s experimental drone, dubbed Phantom Ray, flew to 7,500 feet and reached speeds of 205 mph in its first flight. The 17-minute flight took place April 27, but Boeing officials did not confirm details until Tuesday.
The Phantom Ray, which resembles a giant boomerang, is being developed by the Chicago company for a variety of missions. Its stealthy design could enable it to slip behind enemy lines to knock out radar installations, clearing the way for fighters and bombers.
Unlike existing combat drones that are controlled remotely by a human pilot, the Phantom Ray could carry out a mission controlled almost entirely by a computer. A human pilot sitting miles away designs a flight path and sends it on its way, and a computer program guides it to the target and back.
“The first flight moves us farther into the next phase of unmanned aircraft,” Craig Brown, Boeing’s Phantom Ray program manager, said in a statement obtained by the Times. “Autonomous, fighter-sized unmanned aircraft are real, and the … bar has been raised.”
The Times says Boeing doesn’t have a defense contract for the drone, which it’s been developing for the last two-and-a-half years. That could be risky. But the Phantom Ray isn’t the only drone in Boeing’s new arsenal. The Times details the Ray along with its sister, the Eye:
With a 50-foot wingspan and 36 feet long, the drone was built at Boeing’s complex in St. Louis with engineering support from its Phantom Works facilities in Huntington Beach. […]
The Phantom Ray is designed to fly at 40,000 feet at speeds of more than 600 mph.
Boeing is also developing another drone at Edwards. Dubbed the Phantom Eye, it has a 150-foot wingspan and is designed to fly for more than four days at a time at altitudes of up to 65,000 feet. It will be fueled by liquid hydrogen. The Phantom Eye’s first flight is slated for later this summer, the company said.