The Boeing Airpower Teaming System, also known as the Boeing Loyal Wingman project, developed for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), has been sighted in the open while undergoing ground testing in preparation for the taxi trials.
The photos were posted by Australian Defence Magazine on August 17, 2020, and reportedly taken a few days prior with long lenses by local sources in Queensland. Captured at an undisclosed location in the Australian state of Queensland, the long-lens imagery provides us with a glimpse of the pre-production unmanned teaming aircraft “in the wild.”
The work of an anonymous photographer, the two images — taken earlier this month — were published by Australian Defence Magazine. Although distorted by heat haze, they show the drone on an airfield “somewhere in Queensland.”
Australian Defence Magazine assessed that the airfield where the photos were taken could be RAAF Base Amberley, which is located 40 km south-west of Brisbane, home of Boeing Australia. Amberley is the RAAF’s largest base and it hosts, among all units, the F/A-18F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler fleets. The magazine quoted also a Boeing spokesperson which said that “the first ATS aircraft is currently undergoing ground testing, which will be followed by taxi and a first flight later this year.”
The drone seen in the two photos has a general shape and size that is in line with images and information that Boeing has already released itself. The company previously said that the single-engined loyal wingman unmanned aircraft is 38 feet long, with a wingspan of 24 feet. This makes it around 10 feet shorter than the U.S. Air Force’s T-38 Talon trainer, and its fairly diminutive proportions are emphasized by the small airport tractor pulling it in one of the pictures from Queensland.
What appears to be a white antenna, which has not been seen in previous Boeing pictures or concept art, is visible on top of the rear fuselage. This could be associated with some sort of test equipment.
The RAAF plans to buy three drones, which Boeing calls the Airpower Teaming System, as part of the Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Program.
Unlike regular military drones, Boeing’s Loyal Wingman uses artificial intelligence (AI) to pilot the drone, instead of being controlled remotely. There is still some manual control, but this will be done through a minimal interface rather than a bulky conventional controller.