Spy Drone Gets A Lift From 747

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Boeing's Phantom Ray unmanned airborne system took a ride aboard NASA's 747 shuttle carrier on Monday, for a 50-minute test flight, marking the first time the 747 has carried any aircraft other than the space shuttle. The flight was a shakedown prior to moving the drone from St. Louis, Mo., to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., where it will undergo further ground and taxi tests before first flight early next year. The big UAS, measuring 36 feet long with a 50-foot wingspan, was introduced in May by Boeing Phantom Works after two years of development. The vehicle is designed to test a variety of advanced technologies for surveillance and reconnaissance as well as weaponry. It is also capable of autonomous aerial refueling.

During low-speed taxi tests last month at Lambert International Airport in St. Louis, Phantom Ray communicated with the ground control station, received orders and made its way down the runway multiple times, Boeing said. When the UAS was unveiled in May, program manager Craig Brown said it represented a new approach for the company. "We're really excited about this because Phantom Works is back as a rapid prototyping house, operation and organization," he said. "This is the first of what I expect to be many exciting prototypes, and they're all with exciting technology."