The first prototype unmanned Loyal Wingman aircraft was unveiled in Australia yesterday. The Loyal Wingman prototype now moves into ground testing, followed by taxi and a first flight later this year. The aircraft is the first of three prototypes built under the Australian Loyal Wingman program. The Loyal Wingman will have a range of more than 3,700km, providing a significant force-multiplier for current F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and F/A-18G Growlers currently operated by the Australian Air Force. By helping project power forward, these unmanned assets will help to keep manned platforms out of harm’s way.

The event marked the launch of the first Australian-built aircraft for more than 50 years. The unmanned aircraft was designed and built under a partnership between the Royal Australian Air Force and Boeing Australia.

Boeing has developed this unique unmanned aircraft as part of its ‘Airpower Teaming System’ (ATS), employing manned and unmanned assets in a complex that leverages artificial intelligence (AI) enable unmanned platforms to enhance capabilities currently requiring human supervision. ATS is Boeing’s largest investment in an unmanned aircraft outside of the United States. The Australian Government has added $40 million investment in the program.

A forward view of the ‘Loyal Wingman’ IA-driven unmanned aircraft. Photo: Boeing

“The Loyal Wingman will be pivotal to exploring the critical capabilities our Air Force needs to protect our nation and its allies into the future.” said the Hon. Scott Morrison MP, Prime Minister of Australia. “The new capability would help protect and support Australia’s most valuable Defence aircraft and the pilots who fly them,” Mr. Morrison added. “We’re investing to enhance the agility and capability of the Australian Defence Force so we can protect our nation and our allies. It means Australia can sharpen its edge and prepare for the future,” Mr. Morrison said.

The program helps support around 100 high-tech jobs in Australia. More than 35 members of the Australian industry are supporting prototype work across four Australian states.

“We look forward to getting the aircraft into flight testing and proving out the unmanned teaming concept,” said Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Autonomous Systems for Boeing Defense, Space & Security. “We see global allies with those same mission needs, which is why this program is so important to advancing the development of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System.”

Anticipating such global market demand for highly capable but extremely affordable unmanned aircraft, Boeing applied advanced design innovation and manufacturing techniques to achieve those goals. The Loyal Wingman aircraft was engineered using a digital twin to model its structures, systems, capabilities, and full life-cycle requirements; manufactured with Boeing’s largest-ever resin-infused single composite piece; and assembled using proven advanced manufacturing processes.

The canted twin tail is part of the platform’s low-observability features. Photo: Boeing