Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Boeing schedules flight tests of Phantom Ray
Boeing officials plan to begin taxi tests on the company’s Phantom Ray demonstrator in July, a slight delay from earlier plans, but first flight is still targeted for December 2010, according Darryl Davis, Boeing Phantom Works president.
Phantom Ray is a revived version of the defunct X-45C program. It is fully funded by Phantom Works and aimed to get Boeing designers and engineers working on unmanned combat system technology and aeronautical design elements that could be applicable to a number of future Pentagon acquisitions, including the U.S. Air Force’s unmanned MQ-X and Long-Range Strike program and the Navy’s F/A-XX future strike aircraft.
The goal is first to conduct flight worthiness tests for Phantom Ray and then enter a second phase to expand the flight envelope and, potentially, conduct automated aerial refueling trials, electronic warfare or other tests, Davis says.
The stealthy, flying wing design will be powered by a single modified General Electric F404-GE-102D engine and is designed to carry about 4,500 pounds of payload roughly 1,000 nautical miles round trip without refueling.
Availability of the stealthy exhaust system is what prompted a slight delay to the taxi tests, which were to occur in the spring. The exhaust system was needed elsewhere for a classified Defense Dept. test effort, Davis said. “That test overran its period of performance slightly and so we rewickered some things,” Davis said. “The test we were doing was not related to anything related to Long-Range Strike. It was a technology test for reliability, maintainability, durability kinds of things.”
Proprietary data on the design of the exhaust system is jointly owned by Boeing and General Electric. Davis says the exhaust system has been delivered back to St. Louis for integration onto Phantom Ray and the engine is expected in the next two months.
As the company moves forward with Phantom Ray, it appears a high-profile partnership with Lockheed Martin under a 2008 teaming agreement has stalled. The two opted to team up as a foil to Northrop Grumman, which has its stealthy B-2 and X-47 in hand.
At the time, it was widely thought that Lockheed Martin and Boeing were lagging far behind Northrop Grumman and General Atomics, maker of the Predator and Reaper families, in unmanned aircraft and in technologies that could be applied to a new bomber. Now, however, Lockheed’s work on the formerly classified RQ-170 has been exposed, revealing that the company has legs in this area. And Boeing has begun to pursue flight testing of Phantom Ray.
“Until we understand where the government is headed with the program, all the work that we had previously been doing to collaborate on [internal research and development] and technology, those things have gone into a pause mode ... and I’m not sure that the agreement will endure. And, at this point I’d say the jury is still out on what we will do,” Davis says. “I think the government in the day and age we are in probably wants more competition than less in the re-emergence of the program.”
Posted by Steve Douglass at 2:00 PM