autonomous aircraft

Boeing completes test flights for unmanned fighter-like jets

Image credit: Boeing

Boeing has completed flight tests for five jets that were flown autonomously by artificial intelligence (AI).

The unmanned fighter jets were tracked by a team at the new Queensland Flight Test Range in Cloncurry, Australia.

Boeing’s autonomy technology, which included on-board command and control and data sharing capabilities, were tested using the 3.4-metre aircraft.

Defence contractors are investing increasingly in autonomous technology as militaries around the world look for a cheaper and safer way to maximise their resources.

“The tests demonstrated our success in applying artificial intelligence algorithms to ‘teach’ the aircraft’s brain to understand what is required of it,” said Emily Hughes, director of Boeing’s Phantom Works International.

“The data link capabilities enabled the aircraft to communicate with the other platforms so that they could collaborate to achieve a mission.”

Testing lasted 10 days, with aircraft incrementally added until the five operated together. During testing, the aircraft reached speeds of 270 kilometres per hour.

“With the size, number and speed of aircraft used in the test, this is a very significant step for Boeing and industry in the progress of autonomous mission systems technology,” Hughes said.

The Loyal Wingman prototype is expected to make its first flight this year and Boeing sees mass production probably happening by the middle of the decade.

Earlier this year, a solar-powered aircraft designed to maintain flight operating in the stratosphere for up to a year took its maiden flight. It was designed to operate unmanned and act as an alternative to satellites.

In September, the US’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) accused Boeing of a series of failures following the crashes of two of its Boeing 737 Max aircraft which ultimately led to the death of 346 people.

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