Boeing recently made the first flight of its Phantom Ray, a remotely piloted aerial vehicle — Boeing uses the term “unmanned airborne system” (UAS) — from Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert of Southern California. The airplane looks for all the world like a half-scale radio-control early prototype of the Stealth Fighter, which doesn’t miss the mark by much. It’s no toy airplane. At better than 36,000 pounds max takeoff weight and with nearly 15,000 pounds of thrust, it’s a substantial airplane by any definition. It’s believed that a stealthy drone was used to gather intelligence in the successful hunt for Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
The first flight of the Phantom Ray went flawlessly, with the aircraft operated remotely as it flew, gear extended, over the dry lakes at Edwards. Boeing flew the UAS from St. Louis to Southern California on the back of the same specially outfitted 747 that is used to transport the Space Shuttle, most often when it lands at an alternate site due to bad weather in Florida. The Phantom Ray was first announced in 2010, though it had been in development for around three years by that point. The craft is believed to have a top speed of .80 mach and a ceiling of 40,000 feet with a range of 1,500 nm. No word on just what its payload or surveillance capabilities will be; we suspect that to be the case for some time. To check out Boeing’s video of the first flight, as well as the Phantom Ray atop its 747 mother ship, click here.