The government has announced Australia will spend an extra $115 million to buy three more Loyal Wingman aircraft, doubling the size of the fleet.
The news came on the day the Boeing prototype completed its first test flight, marking a significant moment in the history of Australian aviation.
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 acting Minister for Defence Marise Payne said, “Air Force and Boeing are delivering world leading, cutting edge capability that will help protect and support Australia’s most valuable Defence aircraft, and the pilots who fly them.
“At the same time, the program is supporting Australian jobs and boosting Australia’s defence industry.
“Through this government’s investment in the Loyal Wingman program, we have helped secure over 100 Australian jobs.
“This includes 33 highly skilled aviation engineering jobs in Victoria that would otherwise have been made redundant in the midst of COVID-19.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Boeing said Loyal Wingman took off “under its own power before flying a pre-determined route at different speeds and altitudes” during its landmark test flight. It added that it flew under the supervision of one of its test pilots, who monitored the aircraft from a ground control station at the Woomera Range Complex. See our video, below.
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“The Loyal Wingman’s first flight is a major step in this long-term, significant project for the Air Force and Boeing Australia, and we’re thrilled to be a part of the successful test,” said Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts, RAAF Head of Air Force Capability.
“The Loyal Wingman project is a pathfinder for the integration of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence to create smart human-machine teams.
“Through this project we are learning how to integrate these new capabilities to complement and extend air combat and other missions.”
“Boeing and Australia are pioneering fully integrated combat operations by crewed and uncrewed aircraft,” said Boeing Defense, Space & Security president and CEO Leanne Caret. “We’re honored to be opening this part of aviation’s future with the Royal Australian Air Force, and we look forward to showing others how they also could benefit from our loyal wingman capabilities.”