Boeing will put its Phantom Ray flying wing into the air before the end of the year.
The aerospace giant says that the unmanned aerial vehicle, unveiled at Boeing's St. Louis facility on Monday, is on track to make its first flight in December. The Phantom Ray will be a testbed for unspecified "advanced technologies," and in a press release Monday, Boeing rattled off an array of potential missions for the aircraft, from the now standard UAV tasks of recon and surveillance to aerial refueling, electronic attack, and the menacingly vague "strike." (A separate Boeing feature on the Phantom Ray makes reference to a potential "hunter/killer" mission, which would put it in the same category as the MQ-9 Reaper already in use by the U.S. Air Force.)
Leading up to the planned December flight will be a summer schedule of taxi tests. The debut flight for the one-off prototype aircraft will be followed, Boeing said, by up to nine more flights over the ensuing six months.
"The initial flights will take Phantom Ray through its paces for the flight test profile. Beyond that, the missions and systems tested will be determined by future warfighter needs," said Craig Brown, Phantom Ray program manager for Boeing, in a statement.
Looking like a boomerang with a bump in the middle, the Phantom Ray is 36 feet long and has a wingspan of 50 feet. Weighing in at 36,500 pounds, it has a cruising speed of 614 mph, or 0.8 Mach, and an operating altitude of 40,000 feet. It's powered by an F404-GE-102D turbofan engine.
Boeing is touting the UAV as an example of the ability of its Phantom Works unit to do rapid prototyping, and it's also funding the project internally. A feasibility study took place in spring 2008, and the program got the green light in the fall of that year, the company said. Of course, they had something of a head start--the Phantom Ray design is derived from that of the X-45C experimental aircraft, part of the Defense Department's J-UCAS effort in which Boeing was participating.