It's the dawn of a new age of aerial combat as Boeing prepares to flight test its Phantom Ray robot fighter jet for the first time. Meet your new best friend, nuggets.
UAVs are nothing new, and we've seen mockups of badass robot aircraft designed specifically for dogfighting before, but all of a sudden Boeing's Phantom Ray UCAV is alive and growling and undergoing taxi tests in preparation for flight. And in case you were wondering, that 'C' in 'UCAV' most definitely stands for 'combat.'
The Phantom Ray is about the same size as a fighter aircraft made to contain a human. It tops out at 0.85 Mach and a range of 1,500 miles, and has two internal weapons bays that can carry about 1,500 pounds of nastiness. While the top speed is nothing to write home about, the Phantom Ray is very stealthy, and it's also capable of pulling acrobatic maneuvers that are impossible for humans to do without passing out. At least initially, the UCAV will controlled remotely by a human pilot, but the potential for fully autonomous operation definitely exists.
Northrop Grumman also has a UCAV, called the X-47B, that's undergoing pre-flight testing for an initial flight in the near future. Their version is specifically designed for the Navy, and will be able to execute autonomous carrier landings. I've got my fingers crossed that at some point, somebody will put these two robots in the sky together with some onboard IMAX cameras and just let them go at it. You know, for research.
Make sure to check out the menacing taxi test video, plus a gallery with a pic of the Phantom Ray hitching a ride to a flight testing facility on the same plane that carries the space shuttle around, all just below.