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Boeing’s hydrogen-powered Phantom Eye taxis closer to second flight

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February 7, 2013

Boeing's Phantom Eye atop its launch cart during taxi testing this week (Photo: Carla Thom...

Boeing's Phantom Eye atop its launch cart during taxi testing this week (Photo: Carla Thomas/NASA)

Following the first flight of its Phantom Eye in June of last year, Boeing has performed software and hardware upgrades in preparation for its second flight that will see it climb to higher altitudes. This week, the hydrogen-powered unmanned aircraft system made a significant step towards such a second flight with the completion of taxi testing at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

On its first flight, the Phantom Eye climbed to an altitude of 4,080 feet and reached speeds of 62 knots (71 mph/115 km/h). However, when landing, the Phantom Eye’s landing gear dug into the Edwards Air Force Base lakebed and broke. The Boeing team says it has now improved the aircraft’s landing system, while also improving its autonomous flight systems and upgrading its engine oil pumps.

The taxi testing, which was conducted on February 6, saw the Phantom Eye demonstrator reaching speeds of up to 40 knots (46 mph/74 km/h) while perched atop its launch cart. The successful completion of the taxi tests brings the aircraft a step closer to its second flight, which is expected to be more demanding than the first.

Once operational, the Phantom Eye, boasting a wingspan of 150 feet (46 m), will reach altitudes of up to 65,000 feet and carry payloads weighing up to 450 pounds (204 kg). Its liquid-hydrogen propulsion system, whose only byproduct is water, is designed to allow the aircraft to stay aloft for up to four days.

Source: Boeing

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
6 Comments

If they're not watching you now, they soon will be. What are you going to do about it?

JAT
8th February, 2013 @ 08:25 am PST

Why invent a 'landing system'? At 80 kts cruise a simple tricycle fixed landing gear should do fine. Simple, fail safe and cheap.

Bas Klein Bog
8th February, 2013 @ 10:58 am PST

Spot on Bas

Bill Bennett
8th February, 2013 @ 08:23 pm PST

re; Bas Klein Bog

Fixed landing gear would take a big bite out of the payload and decrease its range by at least a third. Add retractable landing gear and you have reduced it to a toy.

Slowburn
9th February, 2013 @ 09:26 pm PST

I would love to see this platform scaled up for one or two passengers. Imagine having a personal prop plane with only water as its output. Also, is drone technology finally good enough that it can take off and land without any human interaction at all? Autonomous vehicles are at the point that the systems are being integrated into new cars, so I am excited to think that sooner or later personal planes will be to that point as well...

Jay Lloyd
20th February, 2013 @ 07:37 am PST

@ Jay,

Uh, yes, Drones can land themselves, just as Jumbo Jets can land themselves, though Pilots may often take manual control in "difficult conditions". Heck, even the Brits had 6 oz micro helicopters for troop use that can be pre-programmed with "GPS way-points" to investigate around corners, along roads etc, then return autonomously back to the controller, who is only watching what the drone is showing them via it's camera.

Drones such as the Predator's and Reapers (MQ9) have very sophisticated software packages to allow minimum human interaction - basically point and click. The drone does everything else, include landing. Once on the ground, a soldier will then take manual control of the drone to taxi to it's parking spot/hanger. (Note - the MQ9 was upgraded in 2012 with a new "Auto Land" system, increased electrical power, more secure comms and more.

Read more about some of the more expensive quad-drones and drone-Helicopters, and you'll find that they also incorporate "return to start-point" software so that if necessary (loss of control signal, for eg.), the drone will return and land at the exact spot it took off from.

I'm just not ready to allow my Oldsmobile to "park itself in my garage". Perhaps my next car...

Edouin
22nd February, 2013 @ 02:20 pm PST
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