The first purpose designed UCAV in the recent era, Boeing’s X-45A emerged in late 2000 as a demonstrator to show the viability of such vehicles in autonomous operations. Roughly the size of an F-16, the X-45A was of a tailless design that benefited from Boeing’s work on the Bird of Prey demonstrator.The powerplant was a Honeywell F124 turbofan fed through a dorsal intake and exhausting through a yaw-vectorable nozzle. A pair of weapons bays could each carry a single one-ton JDAM, six 250lb bombs, or other payloads such as MALD decoys, jammers, or potentially, directed energy weapons. Although missions could be completely controlled by ground stations, the UCAV could also be flown autonomously, or with limited operator intervention during critical phases.

The NMUSAF’s X-45A, “Wicked Wanda” has been on display since November 2006, while the National Air and Space Museum has custody of the other prototype.
Boeing X-45 UCAV at NMUSAF photo

X-45A flight testing began in May 2002, and by 2004-2005 the two prototype vehicles had demonstrated weapons releases and simulated autonomous attacks while operating together. The F404-powered X-45C version was to have been significantly larger, with a revised planform featuring an enlarged wing. The airframe’s larger size would also have permitted heavier warloads, such as a pair of GBU-31s. The X-45C was Boeing’s entry in the USAF-USN J-UCAS program, and the succeeding Navy N-UCAS/UCAS-D effort, but lost out to Northrop Grumman’s X-47. The X-45C was later recast as the Phantom Ray demonstrator, which first flew in April 2011, after having been carried to California atop a NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.

Magazine Articles and Photos:

Stanley W. Kandebo “Boeing Premieres UCAV Demonstrator” Aviation Week & Space Technology October 2, 2000 p.30-32 3 photos
Robert Wall “Air Force UCAV Design Reworked” Aviation Week & Space Technology February 25, 2002 p.28-30 1 illustration
David A. Fulghum, Robert Wall “USAF Tags X-45 UCAV As Penetrating Jammer” Aviation Week & Space Technology July 1, 2002 p.26-27
David A. Fulghum “Boeing Redesigns X-45” Aviation Week & Space Technology May 5, 2003 p.38