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

Mar 5, 2019

An F-16 Fighting Falcon, representing Misawa Air Base, Japan, demonstration team, and an F-22 Raptor, representing Langley Air Base, Virginia, demonstration team, fly in Australia airspace while heading for the Avalon Airport on Feb. 22, 2013. The Australian International Airshow 2013 is one of the largest, biennial international trade shows in the Pacific and is expected to draw over 350,000 visitors and features approximately 500 defense exhibitors from 35 countries.
Credit 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.”