Let the flights begin

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Northrop Grumman's unmanned X-47B UCAS-D will have company in the air later this year.

Northrop Grumman's unmanned X-47B UCAS-D will have company in the air later this year.

 
You gotta love competition. When Northrop Grumman on Dec. 16, 2008, unveiled its sleek X-47B unmanned bomber – officially, it’s UCAS-D or Unmanned Combat Air Systems-Demonstrator – the stealth-like sleekness of its batwing shape garnered oohs and aahs from the crowd at its manufacturing plant in Palmdale, Calif. The innovative aircraft could be the Navy’s first unmanned aircraft to take off and land on an aircraft carrier at sea. But after initial taxi tests, it still awaits its inaugural flight. 

This week, another defense giant, Boeing Defense Space & Security, unveiled its unmanned prototype called Phantom Ray during a ceremony in St. Louis.

Boeing's Phantom Ray unmanned combat air vehicle, unveiled May 10.//Boeing photo

Boeing's Phantom Ray unmanned combat air vehicle, unveiled May 10.//Boeing photo

 
Much like N-G’s UCAS-D, Phantom Ray is envisioned as a multi-mission land-based aircraft, designed for electronic attack, suppression of enemy air defenses, aerial refueling and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Boeing’s so far financed the entire prototype, which evolved two years ago from the Joint UCAS program. After taxi tests this summer, the company plans its first flight for December. “We are on a fast track, and the first flight is in sight,” said Boeing Phantom Works president Darryl Davis.

At least that’s the plan. N-G officials expected its first flight of UCAS-D in late 2009, but problems with the engine start sequencing pushed that plan several months, and the latest word is the inaugural flight won’t happen until later this year. We’ll wait and see. Interestingly, three years ago, Boeing lost to Northrop Grumman in the Navy’s competition to develop the UCAS-D.

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