May 22, 2002: The X-45A Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle Made its First Flight
Air Force Flight Test Center
/ Published May 22, 2021
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif --
The X-45A Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) made its first flight. The X-45A, designated Blue, was a joint Air Force, DARPA, and Boeing project to produce an initial demonstrator for a UCAV system to attack dangerous ground targets such as enemy air defenses. The autonomous aircraft flew an oval shaped track for 14 minutes at an altitude of 7,500 feet and airspeed of 195 knots.
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. On February 4, 2005, on their 50th flight, the two X-45As took off into a patrol pattern and were then alerted to the presence of a target. The X-45As then autonomously determined which vehicle held the optimum position, weapons (notional), and fuel load to properly attack the target. After making that decision, one of the X-45As changed course and the ground-based pilot authorized the consent to attack the simulated antiaircraft emplacement. Following a successful strike, another simulated threat, this time disguised, emerged and was subsequently destroyed by the second X-45A. This demonstrated the ability of these vehicles to work autonomously as a team and manage their resources, as well as to engage previously-undetected targets, which is significantly harder than following a predetermined attack path.
After the completion of the flight test program, both X-45As were sent to museums, one to the National Air and Space Museum, and the other to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where it was inducted on November 13, 2006.
The X-45A introduced yaw axis thrust vectoring.