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Pacific News Minute: Unmanned Aircraft Featured At Australian International Air Show

Pacific Air Forces
Creative Commons / Flickr

The Australian International Air Show wrapped up on Sunday at Avalon Airport outside of Melbourne, and featured fly-bys of Australia’s newest military planes including the F-35A fighter, and one of its oldest.

The last day of the air show featured a heritage flight, so spectators who braved near record heat saw a British Spitfire, an American Mustang and the Australian built Boomerang. Just 250 of those fighters were manufactured and it was the last combat plane designed and built in Australia . . . until now.

During the air show, Boeing Australia unveiled the prototype of an unmanned fighter jet it called the “airpower teaming system” – as a step toward what many see as an inevitable transition to unmanned aircraft, this conforms to a concept the U.S. Air Force calls “Loyal Wingman.”

As many as half a dozen of these sidekick drones would accompany a manned aircraft, which could send them on high-risk missions. For example, drones could fly ahead of strike aircraft to identify threats on the ground or jam radars. It’s not known if the drone will carry weapons.

The aircraft is 38 feet long, with a range of 2,000 nautical miles. Kristin Robinson, vice president and general manager of Boeing Autonomous Systems summed it up to Reuters, “Fighter-like capability at a fraction of the cost.”

The Australian government will contribute about 30 million dollars to the project and Boeing Australia hopes for export sales. In a reference to the heritage flight, Australian Defense Minister Christopher Pyne said, “This is the first military aircraft concept that Australia has invested in since the Boomerang, so this is a red letter day.”

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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