Where Boeing tests its Loyal Wingman

Deciphering simple open-source information can help the public to understand where Boeing runs tests of its secretive autonomous Loyal Wingman aircraft, formally known as the Airpower Teaming System (ATS)

View of camera angle capturing the Boeing’s marketing video (October 21)

This week, Boeing celebrated a successful test of five surrogate jets operating autonomously in a team in Australia. It was executed at the Queensland Flight Test Range in Cloncurry. The test flight range we can find on Google Maps. It matches the Queensland Government brochure, advertising its unmanned aerial systems flight test range program (FTR).

Boeing is pushing hard to move its autonomous flight program forward. The Australian air force is excited.

Another aircraft in the making is the Loyal Wingman (image). In the open, the plane was spotted for the first time at an airfield in Queensland in mid-August. A photographer took the shots but didn’t disclose the location (or did and the magazine refrained from covering it). The Australian Defence Magazine (ADM) picked it up and tweeted two photos on social media site Twitter. The article explains that until now Boeing has declined to reveal where the aircraft was built. It’s only certain it’s ‘somewhere in Queensland’.

Avid open-source intelligence journalists see this as an open invitation to dig a bit deeper. On the bases of information publicly released by Boeing, what other clues can we use to pinpoint where the test run was conducted? There are indeed a few we can take a look at (though, beware, it may not be the location where the plane was planned and built - that would take a bit more time and effort).

From other reports we know that the Loyal Wingman aircraft — promising to be “pivotal to exploring the critical capabilities our Air Force”, as Scott Morrison, Australia’s Prime Minister put it — measures around 38 feet (11.5 metres) in length and will be powered by a bizjet-class jet engine with a range of around 2,000 nautical miles.

We use some of the Boeing images released along the firm’s social media campaign. Next, I reverse image searched some of the images of the plane. Yandex is your friend. Apart of the Boeing’s press images (the plane’s construction reached a major milestone when it moved ‘under its own power’ for the first time) we only find a number of commentators and speculators on social media who debated where the plane may have been built.

A YouTube video released by Boening, celebrating the milestone achieved for the Boeing Defence Australia’s secretive Airpower Teaming System (ATS), adds a number of additional clues.

The background shows vast bushes and tall trees, indicative for the fact that it’s not filmed at Queensland Flight Test Range in Cloncurry. A list of Queensland’s commercial and military airports on Wikipedia lets us assume that there are give or take six alternative airports used by the military in the state.

One of them might be the location the video was shot at. We also check LinkedIn for details on the speakers presented in the Boeing video. The first, Paul Ryder, is a Boing Flight Test Manager.

Open Linkedin

He happens to disclose his home base, which is sated as Anstead, Queensland, Australia. It’s about 30 minutes drive from the Amberley Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) military airbase, a major Queensland airbase that is also mentioned in our Wikipedia list. It’s also near the city of Brisbane. Boeing did state that the ATS was designed near Brisbane. Incidentally, that is the home to Boeing’s Defence Australia and Boeing Research & Technology Australia holding.

The second person interviewed is called Adam Spinks, a group captain at the Royal Australian Air Force. In a Google search, Spinks pops up in a Facebook post by the Air Force for a push-up challenge at the base (posted in May).

Facebook post at RAAF Base Amberley from May

Using Google Earth we can search the base and locate various features that we also find in the video (the ground markings, background bushes etc.). We find, the location where it says 04 on the ground, seems to be one possible place where the camera filmed the two men interviewed in the promotional YouTube clip showing the aircraft.

Length of the aircraft seems to fit what we see on the youtube clip

In conclusion, the information we found here leads me to think that video of the Loyal Wingman test run was shot at Amberley RAAF airbase (though, beware, this is only a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation). Let me know if you disagree or find additional information. Everything presented here is open-source and can be verified by anyone who has access to a computer with an internet connection.

Investigative journalist with a technical edge, interested in open source investigations, satellite imgs, R, python, AI, data journalism and injustice

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