Tue, Apr 20, 2004
Another Milestone For UCAVs
When the inert bomb slammed into the ground within inches of the
truck it targeted, it might have seemed at first glance like just
another UCAV test. But consider: No one was actually flying the
Boeing X-45A. It was on its own.
For pilots at Edwards AFB (CA), it must have been a somewhat
bittersweet sight, for the X-45A just crossed another one of those
lines leading toward fully automated (although supervised) aerial
"It's absolutely a huge step forward for us. It shows the
capability of an unmanned airplane to carry weapons," said Rob
Horton, Boeing's chief operator for the mission. "From the video,
you see the weapon going down and a huge cloud of dust and the
truck shaking around."
The aircraft was programmed to fly
to the target before it took off, updating its course en route by
checking with an onboard GPS receiver. Horton sat in a control room
80 miles away. As the UCAV was flying at 442 mph, 35,000 feet above
the desert floor, he authorized it to release its weapon.
Had the weapon been contained explosives, it would have
doubtlessly disintegrated the truck, Horton said.
As important as the mission was for the Air Force, which hopes
to use drones to fly the most dangerous missions -- like those
targeting SAM sites and radar facilities -- it was also a big step
for Boeing. It hopes to sell the Air Force hundreds of X-45As at a
cost of up to $15 million each.
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