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Originally published May 10, 2010 at 11:11 AM | Page modified May 11, 2010 at 6:49 AM

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Boeing says jet-sized drone on track to fly in December

Boeing said Monday that its first unmanned jet fighter-sized aircraft, Phantom Ray, is on track to have its first flight in December.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

Boeing said Monday that its first unmanned jet fighter-sized aircraft, called Phantom Ray for its likeness to an undersea manta ray, is on track to have its first flight this year.

"We are on a fast track," said Darryl Davis, president of Boeing's Phantom Works research unit that developed the aircraft. "Phantom Ray is on schedule to fly in December."

The pilotless unmanned aircraft is designed to execute a full range of potential military missions, including surveillance and reconnaissance; long-range, pre-emptive strikes against enemy air defenses; bombing of ground targets; and autonomous aerial refueling.

A fly-by-mouse-click design, the aircraft is "piloted" by an operator watching a computer screen in a fortified trailer that can be deployed near a war zone. It has a 50-foot wingspan and measures 36 feet from nose tip to tail, with the speed and altitude of a manned fighter plane, but greater range.

Flying at Mach 0.8 at an altitude of 40,000 feet, Phantom Ray will have a range of up to 1,500 miles, compared with about 600 miles for a Boeing-built F-18 manned fighter jet.

Phantom Ray has its origins in the X-45 prototype, developed by Boeing to compete for the U.S. military's Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) program, a $1.2 billion research effort funded by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy.

Smaller X-45 concept models successfully flew 64 flights from 2002 through 2005.

In 2007, the Navy chose Northrop Grumman's X-47 unmanned vehicle over Boeing's X-45 concept. Since then, Boeing has continued development of the unmanned jet with internal funding.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

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