February 4, 2005: Boeing X-45A UCAVs Flew Simulated Combat Missions

  • Published
  • Air Force Fight Test Center

Two Boeing X-45A UCAVs flew a simulated combat mission during their 50th flight at Dryden Flight Research Center. The test, dubbed Peacekeeper, had two of the unmanned vehicles sortie independently to an exercise area. The vehicles then autonomously identified two separate pop-up threats, planned their attacks, and jointly “destroyed” them. They then returned to base and landed.

The Boeing X-45 unmanned combat air vehicle is a concept demonstrator for a next generation of completely autonomous military aircraft, developed by Boeing's Phantom Works. Manufactured by Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, the X-45 was a part of DARPA's J-UCAS project.  Boeing developed the X-45 from research gathered during the development of the Bird of Prey. The X-45 features an extremely low-profile dorsal intake placed near the leading edge of the aircraft. The center fuselage is blended into a swept lambda wing, with a small exhaust outlet. It has no vertical control surfaces — split ailerons near each wingtip function as asymmetric air brakes, providing rudder control, much as in Northrop's flying wings.  Removing the pilot and its associated facilities from the aircraft dramatically reduces the aircraft's cost. Ground-based pilots execute the higher level decisions, but the mechanical flying of the aircraft is autonomous.

Boeing built two of the model X-45A; both were scaled-down proof-of-concept aircraft. The first was completed by Boeing's Phantom Works in September 2000. The goal of the X-45A technology demonstrator program was to develop the technologies needed to "conduct suppression of enemy air defense missions with unmanned combat air vehicles. The first generation of unmanned combat air vehicles are primarily planned for air-to-ground roles with defensive air-to-air capabilities coupled with significant remote piloting.  The X-45A had its first flight on May 22, 2002, and the second vehicle followed in November of that year. On April 18, 2004, the X-45A's first bombing run test at Edwards Air Force Base was successful; it hit a ground target with a 250-pound inert precision-guided munition. On August 1, 2004, for the first time, two X-45As were controlled in flight simultaneously by one ground-based pilot.

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