An Australian-designed military drone that uses artificial intelligence to target enemies has conducted its first secretive test flight at Woomera.

Key points:

  • The Loyal Wingman was developed by Boeing alongside the RAAF
  • The uncrewed plane is about the same size as a traditional jet fighter and is designed for dangerous missions
  • The RAAF plans to buy three of the drones

The Loyal Wingman was developed by US manufacturer Boeing in conjunction with the Defence Department and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), which wants to send the system into battle alongside traditional crewed aircraft such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The drone is roughly the size of a traditional jet fighter and has a range of 3,700 kilometres.

Its primary purpose is expected to be electronic warfare and reconnaissance missions, particularly in environments where it is considered risky to send crewed aircraft.

Boeing confirmed the Loyal Wingman’s initial flight was completed on Saturday at the Woomera Range Complex in the South Australian outback.

“The Loyal Wingman’s first flight is a major step in this long-term, significant project for the Air Force and Boeing Australia, and we’re thrilled to be a part of the successful test,” said Air-Vice Marshal Cath Roberts, the RAAF’s Head of Capability.

“The Loyal Wingman project is a pathfinder for the integration of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence to create smart human-machine teams.”

The successful flight coincides with an additional $115 million in government investment in the Loyal Wingman program, on top of the $40 million which had already been committed.

The RAAF plans to buy three drones, which Boeing calls the Airpower Teaming System (ATS), as part of the Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Program.

The Loyal Wingman prototype is the first military drone to be designed in Australia.(



ATS uses artificial intelligence to complement and extend missions flown by traditional combat aircraft.

A working prototype of the combat drone was unveiled last year but planned test flights in December were pushed back due to COVID-19 border restrictions and unfavourable weather conditions.

Boeing says additional Loyal Wingman aircraft are currently under development, with plans for more test flights alongside crewed jets scheduled for later this year.

“We have conceived, designed, built and now flown the first [Australian] military aircraft in half a century,” said Brendan Nelson, president of Boeing Australia.


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