The Boeing Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) X-45 is the first highly autonomous, unmanned system specifically designed for combat operations in the network-centric environment of the 21st century. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, the U.S. Air Force, and Boeing have completed the first two demonstration blocks on the X-45A and are developing the X-45C. The X-45C will fly high-risk operational missions and deliver precision weapons on target. Controlled by either line-of-sight or satellite communications, the X-45 is highly adaptable to changing battle conditions.
Boeing began its unmanned combat aircraft program in 1998 and the following year, DARPA and the U.S. Air Force chose Boeing to build two X-45A air vehicles and a mission control station under the J-UCAS Advanced Technology Demonstration Program. During its first flight, May 22, 2002, the X-45A flew for 14 minutes at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California, reaching airspeed of 195 knots and altitude of 7,500 feet. Flight characteristics and basic aspects of aircraft operations, particularly the command and control link between the aircraft and the mission-control station, were successfully demonstrated.
By the end of 2004, the two X-45As flew 35 test missions at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center. The most significant X-45A test flights in 2004 included a precision weapon drop in April, when the X-45A demonstrator hit a ground target with a 250-pound inert near-precision-guided weapon released from its internal weapons bay, and the first unmanned, autonomous multi-vehicle flight in August under the control of a single pilot.
In October 2006, after 64 unprecedented flights and numerous firsts in autonomous combat aviation, the two X-45A unmanned combat air vehicles designed and built by Boeing in partnership with the DARPA and the U.S. Air Force were sent to two prominent aviation museums to be permanently displayed. One aircraft went to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, and the other to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
“This is a fantastic honor,” said Dave Koopersmith, X-45 vice president and program manager for Boeing Advanced Systems. “The X-45A made history and laid the groundwork for future unmanned combat aircraft with its 64 mishap-free flights. We take great pride that they will be displayed for the world to see at these museums.”
First flight: May 22, 2002
Model number: X-45A
Classification: Unmanned combat aircraft
Wingspan: 49 feet
Length: 39 feet
Max. payload: 4,500 pounds
Cruising speed: 0.80 Mach
Combat radius: More than 1,300 nautical miles
Ceiling: 40,000 feet
Armament: Two internal weapons bays, eight Small Diameter Bombs