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22 May 02. After days of weather-related delays, Boeing Co.’s (NYSE:BA – News) experimental unmanned combat aerial vehicle, completed its first successful flight test at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Boeing spokesman Todd Blecher said the UCAV flight lasted 14 minutes and was designed to test basic systems, not the weapons that will one day be used for combat missions.

Phantom Works, Boeing’s technological research arm, is developing the plane along with the company’s Unmanned Systems division formed late last year. Boeing is the No. 2. U.S. defense contractor and the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial airplanes.

“It happened this morning and was successful by every measure,” Blecher said of the test flight. “The government will have full information in the morning.”
The so-called X-45A is being developed for the U.S. Air Force as part of a program to increase the military’s reliance on drone planes, which have been used with success in the campaign in Afghanistan. Boeing is also competing to build a prototype for the U.S. Navy.

According to a Department of Defense 2003 budget released in February, the total program funding for unmanned aerial vehicles in 2003 is $1.12bn for both procurement and research and development. That is up from $971m in 2002 and nearly triple the $359m in 2001.

In other developments Jerry Daniels, chief executive of Boeing Co.’s military aircraft and missile systems division, said on Wednesday he thinks the company will be able to close a deal to lease air refuelling tankers to the U.S. Air Force by this summer.

In December, Congress authorized the Air Force to negotiate a leasing deal with Boeing for 100 converted 767s to replace some of the aging KC135 tankers, but critics of the plan including Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Republican, said it would be cheaper to buy them.

“I think we’ll get there,” Daniels said at in investor conference in St. Louis.

“By some time this summer, we ought to be able to close on that deal.” Although the government is able to borrow money more cheaply than other institutions, Daniels said budgetary restrictions make the lease deal more sensible than an outright purchase.

Daniels also said that Boeing is about “a year or so away” from securing a follow-on contract for production of its F/A 18 E/F
“Super Hornet.”

Boeing Chief Executive Phil Condit said on Wednesday that Boeing may use it is cash generating from its various businesses to buy back stock and for unspecified strategic acquisitions.

“We will use that cash wisely; we will deploy it,” rather than letting it sit, Condit said in response to a question at the company’s annual investor conference. Boeing in 2002 expects to generate $2.5 billion to $3 billion in cash flow, with more than $3 billion predicted for 2003.

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