Boeing Defence Australia has confirmed that it has commenced development of the fifth Airpower Teaming System (ATS) aircraft at its Melbourne facility, ahead of the completion of its final assembly facility in Toowoomba.
According to a release from the company, the Melbourne facility located in Fishermans Bend, harnessed experience in robotics, composite materials and digital engineering for the Airpower Teaming System, also known as the Loyal Wingman program.
“We approached the design of the air vehicle and production system together with a ‘design for cost’ philosophy,” Andrew Glynn, director of Airpower Teaming System vehicle design and production, said.
“While we’ve developed a clean sheet design featuring many new technologies, we’ve also made smart decisions by incorporating off-the-shelf components and leveraging digital engineering to optimise both speed-to-market and design producibility.
“By collaborating with our Australian industry team– including RUAG Australia and Ferra Engineering – throughout the design process, we’ve been able to incorporate ‘design for manufacture’ features across all air vehicle components and sub-systems.”
The first Airpower Teaming System aircraft was created in May 2020.
“The team adopted three key manufacturing innovations for the Airpower Teaming System, in the areas of robotic drill and fill, shimless assembly and full-size determinant assembly to significantly reduce assembly costs, compared with traditional methods,” Glynn continued.
“We’ve completely removed manual drilling from our production system, improving safety, quality and efficiency across our manufacturing operations.
“To achieve this, we have designed all components to have pre-drilled holes by our suppliers at the sub-component level, allowing the final assembly to snap together without the need for any manual drilling in the factory.”
Adnan Raghdo, director and chief engineer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes Fabrication Composite Capability explained how Boeing developed the system.
“Our team has produced Boeing’s largest resin-infused single composite components for the Loyal Wingman leveraging proven technology,” Raghdo said.
“Extensive computational modelling was used up-front to simulate and optimise the manufacturing process, which enabled ‘virtual learning’ ahead of the first part.”
Using additive manufacturing, Glynn explained that the ATS supported Australia’s sovereign supply chain.
“It’s a nod to Australian innovation and a credit to our small co-located team of experienced aerospace professionals and multi-skilled engineers, who have been able to solve problems and contribute to rebooting Australia’s defence aerospace manufacturing industry,” Glynn noted.
The news comes after Boeing Australia unveiled the launch of a new manufacturing facility for its Loyal Wingman unmanned aircraft at Wellcamp Airport in Toowoomba, Queensland – the first of its kind outside of the US.
The new facility, based at what will now be called the Wellcamp Aerospace and Defence Precinct, will manufacture part of the aircraft, as well as complete its final assembly.
The facility’s initial development is set to take place over the next 12 months. It is not yet known when the facility will be operational.
Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick said that Boeing had “scoured the state looking all over for the best place” to manufacture the aircraft.
“They have decided that the Wellcamp precinct at Wellcamp Airport is the best place for that facility to be constructed,” he said.
Boeing Defence Australia vice-president and managing director Scott Carpendale said, “The Wellcamp Aerospace and Defence Precinct location is attractive due to its access to a flight line, clear flying days, commercial flight access from major cities and ability to support the rapid pace at which the Airpower Teaming System program is growing.
“Sustainable aerospace is a critical focus for Boeing, and Wagner Corporation’s use of sustainable construction methods supports our vision to create a leading sustainable aerospace manufacturing facility from the ground up, including renewable technologies and human-centric design.”
Wagner Corporation chairman John Wagner said Boeing’s selection of Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport for its newest uncrewed aircraft production facility was a major boost for the region, bringing at least 300 new local jobs.
“Attracting investment and global companies such as Boeing to Toowoomba is recognition of the strategic advantages the Wellcamp Airport site offers, including access to the future Inland Rail,” Wagner said.
The Loyal Wingman unmanned aerial vehicle is the first military combat aircraft designed, developed and manufactured in Australia in half a century.
It measures 11.7 metres long, has a range of 2,000 nautical miles, and is expected to deliver fighter-like performance, while also offering intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
The drones are designed to leverage artificial intelligence to fly independently or in support of manned aircraft while maintaining safe distance between other jets.
The Australian government initially ordered three aircraft, but has since doubled the size of the fleet, following the Loyal Wingman’s first successful flight in February 2021.
Additional reporting by Hannah Dowling.