Combat pilots aren't going on the dole queue any time soon, but they might want to start dusting off their resumes. BAE Systems Taranis Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) has flown for the first time in a full stealth configuration, making it almost invisible to radar ... and bringing the day of the unmanned war plane that much closer to reality.

According to BAE, this stealthiness was achieved by engineers removing the air-data boom, which provides air pressure, temperature, and airflow direction data for analysis, from the already stealthy fuselage. Instead, a special system was installed that sent back telemetry of all flight data without the need of a boom or external probe. They also swapped out all the antennae on the aircraft with signature control variants. That is, versions of the antennae that return little or no radar signature.

Other stealth innovations for Taranis include a new radio communications system that allows its mission commander to maintain contact with the craft without revealing the UCAV to the enemy, along with a "hidden" engine configuration.

"Successful propulsion integration was another key highlight of the second trial phase, with the fully embedded and 'hidden' Adour Mk951 engine operating flawlessly coupled with the highly complex and stealthy exhaust system," says Conrad Banks, Rolls-Royce Chief Engineer - Research and Technology, Defence.

Taranis, which made its first flight on August 10, 2013, is billed as "the most advanced aircraft ever built by British engineers" and is one of Britain’s most closely guarded military secrets. Named after the Celtic god of thunder, it is about the size of a Hawk fighter with a 10 m (33 ft) wingspan, and boasts state-of-the-art stealth, propulsion, and aerospace technology. It’s been under development since 2006, has consumed over £185 million (US$300 million) in public and private funds, and one-and-a-half-million man hours.

Source: BAE Systems