Boeing has revealed that its Loyal Wingman has completed its first taxi in a further sign that the aircraft is on track to complete its first flight this year.
The planemaker said the prototype being able to move under its own power was a “key milestone” and added it completed activities including manoeuvring and stopping on command.
Loyal Wingman, fully unveiled to the world in May, is the first military aircraft to be designed, engineered and manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years.
It uses AI to help both manned and unmanned aircraft in mid-air, hence the Australian project name Loyal Wingman.
“The low-speed taxi enabled us to verify the function and integration of the aircraft systems, including steering, braking and engine controls, with the aircraft in motion,” said Paul Ryder, Boeing Australia flight test manager.
Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts, RAAF Head of Air Force Capability, hailed the successful test as an “exciting moment” and said it was “another significant development milestone ahead of its first flight”.
The development comes after Boeing announced last month it had powered up the commercial turbofan engine on the first Loyal Wingman.
Dr Shane Arnott, program director of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System, said, “This engine run gets us closer toward flying the first aircraft later this year and was successful thanks to the collaboration and dedication of our team.
“We’ve been able to select a very light, off-the-shelf jet engine for the unmanned system as a result of the advanced manufacturing technologies applied to the aircraft.”
More than 35 members of Australian industry are supporting prototype work across four Australian states.
The Loyal Wingman prototype now moves into ground testing, followed by taxi and first flight in late-2020.
Meanwhile, Boeing also confirmed this month that Queensland will house the final assembly facility for Loyal Wingman.
The state hopes to have the UAV, also known as the Boeing Airpower Teaming System, produced at the factory by the middle of the decade, with prototype testing and certification happening before that.
Boeing has also hinted the deal could lead to further work heading to Queensland in the future.
Boeing Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific president Brendan Nelson said the partnership will allow the business to “build cutting-edge skills to stimulate the innovation ecosystem in Queensland”.
“This includes introducing technologies such as advanced robotics; investment in universities, small-to-medium enterprises and start-up companies; as well as creating global export opportunities for Australia’s supply chain,” said Nelson.
“This investment could unlock global defence and aerospace opportunities for Queensland to gain future work share in other Boeing programs.”
Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick said, “Boeing has 1,700 staff in Queensland and supports 400 Queensland-based suppliers.
“Loyal Wingman will mean even more highly skilled advanced manufacturing jobs, further reinforcing Queensland’s status as a centre for defence industries.”