On December 13, Boeing’s Phantom Ray unmanned aircraft hitched a ride on the back of NASA’s modified Boeing 747 designed to transport the space shuttle. This marked the first time in 33 years that an aircraft other than the space shuttle orbiter rode on the back of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA). According to a Boeing article, the planning behind the flight has been a year in the making, with efforts from both NASA and Boeing to determine the details through a commercial space act agreement.
Boeing conducted low-speed taxi tests of the Phantom Ray in St. Louis during the month of November and checked ground communications and on-board systems. The December 13th flight was a preliminary 50-minute test in St. Louis that took the Phantom Ray and SCA to 14,000 feet, so that engineers could assess its performance before its 1,800 mile flight to Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California. On December 14th, the SCA and Phantom Ray successfully completed the flight to California, where the Phantom Ray will go through a series of high-speed taxi tests prior to its first flight in early 2011. The Phantom Ray has a 36-foot-long body and a 50-foot wingspan, and has the ability to cruise at 614 mph (0.8 Mach) at an operating altitude of 40,000 feet.
For more information on the Phantom Ray, please visit: Phantom Ray Backgrounder