Boeing Co and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) said on Tuesday they had completed the first flight test on a pilotless fighter-like jet designed to operate in conjunction with crewed aircraft.
The Loyal Wingman, the first military aircraft to be designed and manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years, flew under the supervision of a Boeing test pilot monitoring it from a ground control station in South Australia.
The Australian government has invested US$ 31 million in development of the product, which Boeing last year said had also attracted interest from the United States and United Kingdom as potential future customers.
The Loyal Wingman is 38 feet long (11.6 meters), has a 2,000 nautical mile (3,704 km) range and a nose that can be removed to fit various payloads, including weapons. It can act as a shield to help protect more expensive manned fighter jets.
Defense contractors are investing increasingly in autonomous technology as militaries around the world look for cheaper and safer ways to maximize their resources.
The Loyal Wingman project is a pathfinder for the integration of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence to create smart human-machine teams, RAAF Air Vice-Marshal and Head of Air Force Capability Cath Roberts said in a statement.
During the test flight, the Loyal Wingman took off under its own power before flying a pre-determined route at different speeds and altitudes to verify its functionality and demonstrate the performance of the design.
The first Loyal Wingman is being used as a foundation for Boeing's Airpower Teaming System, a service being developed for various global defense customers.
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