Boeing’s Phantom Ray: A Pilotless Spy Plane of The Future

Unmanned aircraft took a leap forward Monday when Boeing unveiled the Phantom Ray — an advanced robotic craft that the company calls a test bed for advanced technologies.

The Phantom Ray was unveiled by Boeing yesterday. It has a 50ft wingspan and is due to take part in test flights this summer. Photo: Boeing

After only two years of development, the Phantom Ray unmanned airborne system (UAS) was unveiled at a ceremony in St. Louis on May 10. Built by Boeing in St. Louis, the sleek, fighter-sized UAS combines survivability with a powerful arsenal of new capabilities.

“Phantom Ray offers a host of options for our customers as a test bed for advanced technologies, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; suppression of enemy air defenses; electronic attack and autonomous aerial refueling – the possibilities are nearly endless,” said Dennis Muilenburg, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security.

Boeing Defense, Space & Security President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg addresses the crowd of employees gathered to view the Phantom Ray unmanned airborne system for the first time. Photo: Boeing

The sleek craft has a 50 ft wingspan, measures 36 ft long and has a gross weight of 36,500 lbs.

It operates at an altitude of 40,000ft, which is 10,000ft higher than the average long-haul commercial airliner.

It will cruise comfortably at a speed of 614mph, or 0.8mach, just shy of the speed of sound.

The Phantom Ray is a ‘one off’ demonstration vehicle intended to be a flying test bed for future technology development opportunities.

It was developed by Boeing Phantom Works based on a prototype that the company had originally created for the U.S military.

Designed in a way to create a very low radar cross-section, the craft doesn’t betray its presence over enemy territories. The engine is buried within the body to reduce the infra-red signature, thus throwing missiles off its course. It is likely any weaponry on board would ‘pop out’ only when needed.

The Phantom Ray evolved from Boeing’s original unmanned aircraft program — the X-45 A and C. Boeing says the Phantom Ray uses advanced fly-by-mouse technology. That means when it’s in the air, the Phantom Ray will be monitored by someone safely on the ground miles away at a computer.

Hundreds of Boeing employees attended the rollout ceremony for the Phantom Ray on May 10 in St. Louis. Photo: Boeing

“If any changes are needed in the flight, it’s done by a computer program — no joysticks to alter courses,” says Brown. Teri Finchamp helped build the actual prototype plane that was unveiled at the ceremony, reports

“I call her my baby,” said Teri. “It’s a wonderful sense of pride that I have of the team that took this from cradle to grave,” she added.

The Phantom Ray’s first test flight will come in December. Then, there could be up to ten test flights after that. The eventual hope for Boeing is that the Phantom Ray will be sold to agencies like the U.S. Department of Defense.”

My hope is that we get her in the air and she proves that she can do what we know it can,” said Teri.

The company says it fronted the money itself to build the prototype. At this point it’s unclear when Boeing might be able to actually sell a Phantom Ray or how much one would cost a buyer.

Phantom Ray is designed to be a test bed for advanced technologies and support such missions as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, suppression of enemy air defences, electronic attack, strike and autonomous aerial refueling. [Boeing via DailyMail (UK) and CNET]

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