Boeing’s Phantom Eye, hydrogen-powered HALE (High Altitude Long Endurance) surveillance aircraft rose from its launch cart at 6:22 a.m. Pacific time on June 1, then climbed to an altitude of 4,080 feet on its 28 minute maiden flight.
Phantom Eye is meant to be an autonomous craft with four-day mission capabilities. The bulbous front fuselage houses two spherical hydrogen tanks that feed the Ford 2.3 liter engines on the 150-foot, high-aspect ratio wings. The engines, triple turbocharged at altitude, emit only water vapor, making spying a little cleaner.
Note the web-like spinning of carbon fiber strands making up the fuselage. This highly-automated manufacturing process probably emulates that used on the company’s 787 Dreamliner and reflects the high-technology methods we can expect in the future.
Phantom Eye’s landing was not quite as elegant as its takeoff, one landing gear breaking after digging into the Edwards Air Force base lakebed.
Despite the glitch, Boeing remained upbeat about its new bird. “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, autonomous flight.”
“This flight demonstrated Phantom Eye’s initial handling and maneuverability capabilities,” said Drew Mallow, Phantom Eye program manager for Boeing. “The team is now analyzing the data from the mission and preparing for our next flight. When we fly the demonstrator again, we will proceed to enter higher and more demanding envelopes of high-altitude flight.”