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Boeing Starts Work on ‘Phantom Eye’ Hydrogen-Powered UAV

A UAV that can fly for four days, at 65,000 feet?

A UAV that can fly for four days, at 65,000 feet?

Boeing’s Phantom Eye claims to be able to fly four four days at 65,000 feet, thanks to liquid hydrogen fuel. (Photo by Boeing)

A futuristic fuel, liquid hydrogen, is key to the system.

“The essence of Phantom Eye is its propulsion system,” said Darryl Davis, Boeing Phantom Works president. “After five years of technology development, we are now deploying rapid prototyping to bring together an unmanned aerial vehicle [UAV] with a breakthrough liquid-hydrogen propulsion system that will be ready to fly early next year.”

So far, Phantom Eye just looks like some piles of aluminum in a workshop. But when complete, Boeing says the “Phantom Eye” will be an unmanned, high altitude long endurance (HALE) demonstrator aircraft–powered by cutting-edge liquid hydrogen–capable of flying for four days at up to 65,000 feet with a payload of 450 pounds.

Boeing also is developing a larger HALE that will stay aloft for more than 10 days and carry payloads of more than 2,000 pounds, and building “Phantom Ray,” a fighter-sized UAV that will be a flying test bed for advanced technologies.

Phantom Eye’s entire propulsion system–including the engine, turbo chargers and engine control system–successfully completed an 80-hour test in an altitude chamber on March 1, clearing the way for the propulsion system and UAV to be assembled.

The twin-engine Phantom Eye is designed to maintain a persistent presence in the stratosphere over a specific area, while performing missions that could include intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance and communication.

“We believe Phantom Eye and Phantom Ray represent two areas where the unmanned aerial vehicle market is heading, and rapid prototyping is the key to getting us there,” said Dave Koopersmith, Advanced Boeing Military Aircraft vice president. “These innovative demonstrators reduce technology risks and set the stage for meeting both military and commercial customers’ future needs.”

Phantom Eye evolved from Boeing’s earlier success with the piston-powered Condor that set several records for altitude and endurance in the late 1980s. Boeing, as the Phantom Eye system designer, is working closely with Ball Aerospace, Aurora Flight Sciences, Ford Motor Co. and MAHLE Powertrain to develop the demonstrator.

Phantom Ray evolved from the X-45C program. It is scheduled to make its first flight in December.

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