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updated 5/4/2011 6:50:55 PM ET 2011-05-04T22:50:55

The Boeing Phantom Ray unmanned airborne system (UAS) made its first solo flight April 27 at NASA's Dryden Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

The first flight of the fighter-size jet under its own power lasted 17 minutes. The Phantom Ray reached an altitude of 7,500 feet and a speed of 178 knots (or a little over 200 miles per hour). The flight followed a series of high-speed taxi tests conducted in March to validate ground guidance, navigation and control and verified mission planning, pilot interface and operational procedures.

The successful flight demonstrated Phantom Ray's basic airworthiness and set the stage for additional flights over the next few weeks.The announcement of the flight was the first time the tight veil of security that was thrown over the program was lifted. The Phantom Ray is considered to be a test bed for the development of a series of unmanned stealthy, carrier-based strike aircraft for the U.S. Navy.

Once the aircraft becomes operational, potential missions may include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, suppression of enemy air defenses, electronic attack, strike and autonomous air refueling.

"The first flight moves us father into the next phase of unmanned aircraft," Craig Brown, Phantom Ray program manager for Boeing, said in a statement.

"Autonomous fighter-size unmanned aircraft are real, and the UAS bar has been raised. Now I'm eager to see how high that bar will go."

The last time the stealth jet was airborne was on Dec. 13 when it was ferried to Edwards atop a modified Boeing 747 from Boeing's Phantom Works facility in St. Louis, Mo. The Phantom Works is Boeing’s own " skunk works," whose mission is to build near-operational prototypes to get airplanes flying more quickly.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.

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