Boeing's Phantom Eye Makes First Autonomous Flight
June 5, 2012 12:30 PM
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After the Phantom Eye landed, it was slightly damaged when the landing gear hit the lakebed and broke
Boeing sent its Phantom Eye
unmanned airborne system
(UAS) on its first autonomous flight last week.
Boeing's Phantom Eye is a hydrogen-powered unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that is propeller-driven. The aircraft uses two 2.3 liter, four-cylinder engines capable of pushing 300 horsepower total and can loiter above a target for up to 10 days. Its main purpose is to gather information or conduct attack missions.
took off at 6:22 a.m. PST for a 28-minute flight. It reached an altitude of 4,080 feet and a speed of 62 knots. The flight took place June 1 at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
"This day ushers in a new era of persistent Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaisance (ISR) where an unmanned aircraft will remain on station for days at a time providing critical information and services," said Darryl Davis, president of Boeing Phantom Works. "This flight puts Boeing on a path to accomplish another aerospace first -- the capability of four days of unrefueled, autonomous flight."
After the Phantom Eye landed, it was slightly damaged when the landing gear hit the lakebed and broke. But overall, the flight was a success.
Previous to the June 1 flight, the Phantom Eye took part in a series of tests throughout April, such as navigation and control, pilot interface, and mission planning.
The Phantom Eye used for demonstration purposes has a 150-foot wingspan and can carry a 450-pound payload. It can fly up to 96 hours without needing to land, but Boeing is looking to make a new model in 2014 that can fly up to 240 hours without landing.
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6/5/2012 5:24:30 PM
Hydrogen stores much more energy per unit mass than gas/kerosene. However, it has much less for unit volume for any practical aircraft purpose - ie. no cryogenic storage and reasonable limits on pressurisation.
So, it's reasonable that hydrogen is more appropriate to vehicles with larger volumes - which means thick wings, fat fuselage, etc. These - esp. thick wings, are more appropriate for low-speed flight. I imagine this demonstrator is along the vein of "persistent surveillance" vehicles, so cruise/dash speed aren't so important.
It's interesting, though, that they went with IC engines instead of a fuel cell.
6/6/2012 1:29:42 PM
It is probably an efficiency issue. Since a higher mass of gas/kerosene would be required in order to provide the same amount of mechanical work, the aircraft would require greater lift, which equates to either higher airspeed or longer wings. Since a lower airspeed is desirable to reduce drag and so reduce the energy required to stay on target a given amount of time, and since long wings (more volume for fuel) are required in any case, hydrogen makes sense.
As for the fuel cell approach, I think that is likely a reliability issue. ICEs are simply more proven than fuel cells and probably considered less likely to fail.
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