Phantom Eye: Liquid-hydrogen powered unmanned aircraft completes first flight

Jun 04, 2012
Boeing's Phantom Eye unmanned airborne system (UAS) completed its first autonomous flight June 1 at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. In this photo, the UAS takes off on its 28-minute flight.

Boeing's Phantom Eye unmanned airborne system (UAS) completed its first autonomous flight June 1 at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

The 28-minute flight began at 6:22 a.m. Pacific time as the liquid-hydrogen powered aircraft lifted off its cart. Phantom Eye climbed to an altitude of 4,080 feet and reached a cruising speed of 62 knots. After touching down, the vehicle sustained some damage when the landing gear dug into the lakebed and broke.

"This day ushers in a new era of persistent Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) where an unmanned aircraft will remain on station for days at a time providing critical information and services," said Darryl Davis, president, Boeing Phantom Works. "This flight puts Boeing on a path to accomplish another aerospace first -- the capability of four days of unrefueled, ."

Phantom Eye is the latest in a series of Boeing-funded rapid prototyping programs, which include Phantom Ray, Echo Ranger, ScanEagle Compressed Carriage, and an associated Common Open Mission Management Command and Control (COMC2) system capable of managing all of the company's unmanned assets.

The flight took place following a series of taxi tests in April that validated ground guidance, navigation and control, mission planning, pilot interface and operational procedures.

"This flight demonstrated Phantom Eye's initial handling and maneuverability capabilities," said Phantom Eye Program Manager Drew Mallow. "The team is now analyzing data from the mission and preparing for our next flight. When we fly the demonstrator again, we will enter higher and more demanding envelopes of high-altitude ."

Phantom Eye's innovative and environmentally responsible liquid-hydrogen will allow the aircraft to stay on station for up to four days while providing persistent monitoring over large areas at a ceiling of up to 65,000 feet, creating only water as a byproduct. The demonstrator, with its 150-foot wingspan, is capable of carrying a 450-pound payload.

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User comments : 10

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deatopmg
1 / 5 (3) Jun 04, 2012
So what mission advantage does being H2 powered offer? Or is this just bowing to special interests?
trekgeek1
1 / 5 (1) Jun 05, 2012
So what mission advantage does being H2 powered offer? Or is this just bowing to special interests?


You can get Hydrogen by electrolysis. That means you don't need petroleum reserves, just water and electricity to make your fuel. Additionally, your waste product is water.
DOJP
not rated yet Jun 05, 2012
Soooooooo we can vanquish our enemies and be environmentally friendly? Win - Win (or Lose) depending on which end of this advancement you find yourself. Now does the euphemistically named "payload" use non-GMO, organic, fair trade, gluten free, carbon neutral, RoHS compliant ingredients. Now that would be something.
Eikka
2 / 5 (4) Jun 05, 2012
You can get Hydrogen by electrolysis. That means you don't need petroleum reserves, just water and electricity to make your fuel. Additionally, your waste product is water.


And how do you propose to make that electricity on-site somewhere in the middle of the desert to refuel this thing?

Of course, if you're on a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, pure water and electricity aren't a problem. Anywhere else, in a military operation, you pretty much start a diesel generator, which kinda moots the whole point.
Origin
1.8 / 5 (4) Jun 05, 2012
Most of these "environmentally friendly" technologies do the same thing: they dissolve the consumption of fossil fuels into another commodities, including raw materials (the production of which requires additional fossil fuels). As a general clue for total energy consumption can serve the cost of technology: if it's significantly more expensive than the classical technology, then it probably isn't more environmentally friendly, but more demanding instead. IMO the only significant step forward is the cold fusion finding, everything else is just a poor replacement of it.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jun 05, 2012
And how do you propose to make that electricity on-site somewhere in the middle of the desert to refuel this thing?
By any way that is available. Solar, wind, bioelectrolysis...whatever. That's the point. If you have no gas then it just won't work - but as long as you have rudimentary tools and water you can rig something up to get it to work.

you pretty much start a diesel generator, which kinda moots the whole point.

Diesel is probably easier to come by than high octane fuel.

Additionally, your waste product is water.

Though somehow I think the quality of your waste is not a primary concern in military applications. That might be only good for PR.
DoubleD
not rated yet Jun 05, 2012
So what mission advantage does being H2 powered offer? Or is this just bowing to special interests?

High energy density = longer loiter time for the same fuel mass
Cliff Claven
1.8 / 5 (5) Jun 05, 2012
Hydrogen fuel offers 3X the energy per unit mass (gravimetric energy density) as jet fuel. That makes possible very long range and high endurance flight, and flight at higher altitudes. However any claims of this being good for the environment are specious, as should be obvious to readers of this site. It costs a tremendous amount of energy to produce that pure hydrogen and to refrigerate it down to -253C and to transport and store it in pressurized cryogenic containers. Whether that energy is provided directly by fossil fuel, or by hydro-electric or nuclear energy that otherwise would have gone to offsetting use of fossil fuel, it has the same impact on the environment.
Ober
not rated yet Jun 05, 2012
Might they be using a fuel cell?? Might the hydrogen be stored in a crystaline structure rather than pressurised tank? Might everything on-board be all electric, including the motors for the propellers?
Might that be how they get 4 days performance out of it, and all the electricety they can use for high tech instrumentation???

Good for the environment is just propoganda, the hydrogen is used for energy density and use in a fuel cell.
trekgeek1
not rated yet Jun 05, 2012
You can get Hydrogen by electrolysis. That means you don't need petroleum reserves, just water and electricity to make your fuel. Additionally, your waste product is water.


And how do you propose to make that electricity on-site somewhere in the middle of the desert to refuel this thing?

Of course, if you're on a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, pure water and electricity aren't a problem. Anywhere else, in a military operation, you pretty much start a diesel generator, which kinda moots the whole point.


Hmmm..... guess I can't think of one way to make electricity out in the desert with all that wind and sun in the way. Even so, you could still truck it in or pump it in the same way as petroleum. It's still cleaner in the end. My comment was also general, not necessarily this aircraft. In general, vehicles would not need petroleum.