If you stop by this site regularly, you probably know about Boeing's efforts to develop an killer drone for the Air Force.You might have read about how a prototype "unmanned combat aerial vehicle," or UCAV, has already gone on trial bombing runs. Or how a pair of the drones came up with attack plans of their own -- and executed them on a mock air-defense battery. It was one of more than 60 test flights for the UCAV.But that was just the first model, the 8,000-pound X-45A. The other day, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports, Boeing showed off its next edition, which, at 18,000 pounds, is more than twice as big: the X-45C.
It will be powered by an F404-GE-102D engine, the same kind used on Boeing's two-engine F-18.The X-45C will be able to fly at 40,000 feet and at Mach .85. It will carry two 2,000-pound precision-guided bombs or up to eight small-diameter bombs. Its operational combat radius will be 1,100 to 1,300 nautical miles.That's far more range than manned fighters have without being refueled.Drones have been armed for a while, now. Look at what the Predator has done. But those planes are remote-controlled, completely. The UCAV is supposed to fly itself, make decisions for itself, the Seattle Times notes.
The aircraft's sensors identify and approach targets autonomously. The remote pilot gives consent to strike with a mouse click."Yet there are serious questions as to the long-term funding of the next-generation X-45-type unmanned aircraft," the Times adds.
Richard Aboulafia, industry analyst with the Teal Group, called the program "the worst-funded good idea in decades" and said it's unclear if the budget to produce combat versions will be there.THERE'S MORE: If the X-45's $1.2 billion price tag seems a little out of your reach, maybe this little remote-controlled spy plane will be more your speed. It takes 26 pictures from up to 1,000 feet. And it's selling at Wal-Mart for $148.32.(Big ups: CP)