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Boeing drone jet completes maiden flight

  • Phantom Ray takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, CA and flies for 17 minutes
  • Delta-shaped aircraft traveled at speeds in excess of 300 kph reaching altitude of 7,500 feet
  • Aircraft could be used for "suppression of enemy air defenses," Boeing says

(CNN) -- A computer-controlled air vehicle capable of gathering intelligence and carrying out military surveillance has completed its first test flight, according to U.S. aerospace company Boeing.

The Phantom Ray unmanned airborne system (UAS) took off from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California on April 27, according to Boeing, and flew for 17 minutes reaching a height of 7,500 feet (2286 meters) while traveling at speeds of over 322 kph (200 mph).

Craig Brown, Boeing's Phantom Ray program manager said in a statement: "Autonomous, fighter-sized unmanned aircraft are real, and the UAS (unmanned airborne system) bar has been raised. Now I'm eager to see how high that bar will go."

The delta-shaped aircraft is a fighter-sized, flying wing design with a wingspan of 50 feet (15.2 meters) and is 36 feet (10.9 meters) long.

It is designed to reach speeds of more than 965 kph (600 mph) and an altitude of 40,000 feet (over 12,000 meters).

A pre-loaded flight plan controls how the Phantom Ray taxis, takes off and maneuvers when airborne, says Boeing, with new commands "just a mouse click away" if a mission suddenly changes.

It's the beginning of providing our customers with a test bed to develop future unmanned systems technology
--Darryl Davis, Boeing Phantom Works

April's flight has established the "basic airworthiness" of the aircraft, says Boeing, and paves the way for further flight tests in the coming weeks.

The Phantom Ray project was launched back in 2008 and the plane was unveiled to the public at a ceremony in St Louis, Missouri in May last year.

Boeing envisage the aircraft would support military combat missions providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance services, as well as being used for the "suppression of enemy air defenses" and autonomous re-fueling.

Darryl Davis, president of Boeing Phantom Works (a division of the company which produces advanced prototypes) said in a statement: "It's the beginning of providing our customers with a test bed to develop future unmanned systems technology, and a testament to the capabilities resident within Boeing."

The Phantom Eye is one of several unmanned prototypes being developed by Boeing which include the Phantom Eye -- a hydrogen-fueled endurance aircraft -- and the A160T Hummingbird -- a high-altitude endurance helicopter.


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