back to article Boeing puts Loyal Wingman robot fighter jet through its paces... on the ground

Boeing has successfully taxied its Loyal Wingman robot fighter jet around an airfield, a key milestone for the aircraft to operate fully autonomously. Trials in Australia earlier this week showed that the unmanned aircraft, intended to fly and fight alongside a traditional fighter jet with a human pilot, was able to drive …

  1. Chris G Silver badge

    Taxiing challenge

    Based on my experience working on light airframes, we would often go to collect and aircraft from the other side of the field and then taxi back to the hangar.

    The challenge was not only discerning the taxi ways but also the myriad of student pilots and often the 'too late to have flown in the war' type members of the flying clubs who invariably had Spitfire tie pins along with some semblance of a handlebar mustache but little common sense.

    If Boeing can get the Loyal Wingman to autonomously negotiate it's way across an airfield's taxi ways with several flying clubs based there, and do it on a weekend, it will be able to handle any of the dog fighting stuff easily.

    One of our commonest repair jobs was changing wing tips that had been dinged on taxiing.

    1. Commswonk

      Re: Taxiing challenge

      The challenge was not only discerning the taxi ways...

      That comment reminded me of a couple of times I had to visit RAF <redacted> to work on <also redacted> more than a few years ago. Getting to the exact location required driving round the perimeter track, a normally simple function complicated by the fact that it wasn't really a perimeter track as it was crossed by taxiways from various dispersal points.

      "Keep an eye out for the little traffic lights" was the instruction; they were indeed little and stood no more than wheel - hub height; obviously enough a red light meant there was an aircraft coming through, a green one meant it was my turn.

      Made "ordinary" traffic lights a little boring thereafter.

      Happy days... :)

    2. wwwd

      Re: Taxiing challenge

      Who needs several flying clubs, when one Harrison Ford would likely bring the whole venture to an end?

      1. TeeCee Gold badge

        Re: Taxiing challenge



  2. Gene Cash Silver badge

    I would assume this is the "hello world" of developing an autonomous aircraft. It's not as trivial a task as it seems.

    1. Commswonk

      It's not as trivial a task as it seems.

      Boeing seemed to think that adding MCAS was trivial, and see where that got them for a non - autonomous aircraft.

    2. MyffyW Silver badge

      Ice Man: You! - You are still dangerous <cheesy grin> but you can be my wingman anytime!

      Maverick: Bad command or file name.

      1. Psmo

        Goose would have made it.

    3. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

      The machine flies so low that it has been equipped with high beam and turn signals.

      It can also stop at a red light, and then it looks like nothing, electronically.

  3. The commentard formerly known as Mister_C

    16 knots - are they mad?

    0.2 miles per hour is plenty fast enough for autonomous manoeuvring. Any faster any the vacuum cleaner won't pick up enough dust.

    1. Little Mouse Silver badge

      Re: 16 knots - are they mad?

      But in movies, slow robots are much scarier.

      e.g. Arnie in the last 10 minutes of Terminator, or Yul Brynner in West World.

      You wouldn't want one of those in your living room.

      1. Little Mouse Silver badge

        Re: 16 knots - are they mad?

        An hour since my last post - and I can't shake ('n'Vac?) the image of Arnie & Yul hoovering the living room in drag, Queen-style.

        Just thought I'd share that with you.

        1. Psmo

          Re: 16 knots - are they mad?

          I vant to braaaaaaaake freeeeeeeeeeee.

          And your heels and your apron.

      2. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: 16 knots - are they mad?

        Slow moving robots are easy, a handful of iron filings and a water pistol full of peroxide; instant rust!

        Everyone should keep these itemw handy.

  4. Peter X

    Camo + hi-vis

    I've seen it before, but there's always something rather incongruous about military types in their camo gear, then with a hi-vis waistcoat over the top of it.

    1. jonathan keith

      Re: Camo + hi-vis

      Throw a clipboard into the mix and they'll be triply invisible.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Camo + hi-vis

        Oddest one I ever saw was a navy supply ship carefully painted low visibility sea grey - with a row of bright orange lifeboats along each side.

        1. Augie

          Re: Camo + hi-vis

          Reminds me of the Germans during the 70's and 80's.. nicely camouflaged aircraft... bright orange bands to help with visibility

  5. Richard Crossley

    Thunderbirds are ------>

    It looks reminiscent of Thunderbird 2.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Thumb Up

      It looks reminiscent of Thunderbird 2.

      It really does.

      Not so much TB2 but one of the generic aircraft that take off in the series (usually before a spectacular crash).

      It's something about being just the right distance away from the camera, and the sound track of a turbine spooling up.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Just hope that thing doesn’t get struck by lightning,

    Ive seen the documentary

    1. Maelstorm Bronze badge

      Re: Stealth

      Damn you. You beat me to it. You got the movie, but I got the EDI: Extreme Deep Intruder.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Stealth

        You got the movie, but I got the EDI: Extreme Deep Intruder.

        I thought those were sold by Ann Summers...


        1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          Re: Stealth

          I thought those were sold by Ann Summers...


          Coughing is for when you're seeing your GP, not shopping in Ann Summers.

  7. Kabukiwookie Silver badge

    On fully automated planes

    though humans still need to do the taxiing around on the ground. Nonetheless, that may not last for too much longer

    I prefer to be on a plane with someone who can intervene if there's an issue, preferably one who has the same vested interest in getting the plane down safely as I do.

    Somehow I don't think a fully auotmated system or even a remote pilot will have the same motivation to do everything they can to get me back on the ground safely as a pilot who will suffer the same fate as I would.

    1. Roger Kynaston Silver badge

      Re: On fully automated planes

      Sadly, it is usually the human (meatsack) that makes a plane fall out of the sky. We are great at imagination (well some of us are) but bad at doing mundane but important tasks exactly the same way every time - hence computers.

      1. Robert Grant Silver badge

        Re: On fully automated planes

        Enter Boeing 737 MAX.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: On fully automated planes

          Are you saying that the 737 MAX is supposed to fly into the ground each time it takes off?

          1. Ochib

            Re: On fully automated planes

            Landing always happens after a take-off. If you can reuse the plane afterwards, that's a bonus

            1. seven of five

              Re: On fully automated planes

              But only the landings you walk away from are the good ones.

        2. Trollslayer

          Re: On fully automated planes

          In that case the meat sacks were in the boardroom.

          Getting bonuses while those who generate the wealth were treated like serfs.

          This was while they were getting subsidies from the US government.

      2. Sanguma

        Re: On fully automated planes

        Rock-filled clouds, anyone? The F-111 (Aadvark) had a reputation of flying fast and low - very fast and very low. Interesting to see how this one pans out in those circumstances - the Aussies'd be interested if it can do what the F-111 could do. Otherwise, I doubt they'd be interested - unless of course the Yanks made buying it a condition of interaction with their armed forces. (I mean, they bought the F-18, didn't they? Under the assumption that they'd do some of the building - which never happened.)

    2. aqk

      Re: On fully automated planes

      ....prefer to be on a plane with someone who can intervene????

      I even prefer to be in an elevator with someone who can intervene. As long as it isn't Hannibal Lector.

  8. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Skynet Rising.

    1. wwwd

      Skynet pootling around a field, actually.

      1. seven of five

        for now.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Long before Skynet, and a bit more germane, the old Lance McLane (which is what Jeff Hawke became, before then becoming Jeff Hawke again,,,) comic strip in the Daily Record back in the mid 70's had a story sequence about an autonomous/AI aircraft based at some forgotten secret installation in Australia going a wee bit postal in a post-apocalyptic world when some young boy manages to break into the installation and re-awakens it.

      Anyhoo, I, for one, welcome our future Tinman callsigned overlords...

  9. John Jennings

    Its what the Queen Elizabeth was made for.

    Its a drone ship in the end.

    By the end of her design life (and she is likely the last class the UK will build) she will be carrying something like these, rather than F-35's

    Scary stuff

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Its what the Queen Elizabeth was made for.

      I just imagined a pair of these slowly taxiing off HMS White Elephants deck, ending up in Portsmouth harbor.

  10. John Sturdy

    But will it take orders in the traditional way?

    Does it understand marshalling gestures from people in hi-vis?

    At least it's a defined set of gestures.

  11. TheProf

    We're doomed. DOOMED!

  12. s. pam

    737MAX ^ 2??

    Hopefully the new improbved model doesn't have c/g problems which could render it unstable in flight so these unmaned vehicles become Skynet bombers...

  13. laughthisoff


    Is this the genesis of Cylon fighters* in our universe?! By your command.

    (* the grown ones, not the original ones with humanoid bots in)

    1. Badbob

      Re: Cylons

      With the consciousness of an angst ridden teenage girl?

      Or am I the only person that watched Caprica? Yes, ok, I’ll get my coat....

  14. TeeCee Gold badge


    ...wooden mockups...

    Or maybe they're fooling us all and it's actually the Mosquito MKII?

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