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AVIATION: Phantom Eye spy plane pic infographic

Phantom Eye spy plane pic

Graphic News

July 5, 2011 -- A high-altitude, unmanned spy plane which can fly non-stop for up to four days is being prepared for its first flight. The Phantom Eye aircraft, powered by liquid hydrogen, is a major push for Boeing in the UAV market, said to be worth $55bn through 2018.

Boeing is preparing for the first flight of Phantom Eye, its hydrogen-powered Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) built to stay aloft at 19,800m (65,000ft) for up to four days at a time, with a 200kg (450-pound) payload.

The first craft has just completed 12 days of ground vibration and structural tests at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California. It has also had its fuel tanks successfully filled to test fuelling procedures and the aircraft’s full-fuel weight configuration.

Phantom Eye is powered by a pair of four-cylinder, 2.3-litre engines, based on a Ford motor engine and each generating 11.8kW (150hp). What is remarkable is that the engines are fuelled by liquid hydrogen, held in two large tanks. However, inert nitrogen was used for the first tank-filling tests.

Phantom Eye evolved from Boeing’s earlier success with the piston-powered Condor that set the world piston-powered aircraft altitude record of 20,430m (67,028ft) in 1989, and was the first aircraft to fly a fully automated flight from takeoff to landing.

“It is a perfect example of turning an idea into a reality. It defines our rapid prototyping efforts and will demonstrate the art-of-the-possible when it comes to persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,” says Boeing Phantom Works president Darryl Davis. “Phantom Eye is the first of its kind and could open up a whole new market in collecting data and communications.”

Boeing’s Phantom Works has maintained a stringent self-imposed schedule to demonstrate Boeing's rapid prototyping abilities. In addition to Phantom Eye, Boeing has a variety of other concepts in production or development, including the A160 Hummingbird helicopter, Phantom Ray and Unmanned Little Bird.

According to Teal Group, an aerospace consultancy in Fairfax, Virginia, UAVs are the most dynamic growth sector of the world aerospace industry, with a potential market value of $55 billion.

Suppliers and partners for the Phantom Eye programme include Ford Motor Company, which supplied the engines, Aurora Flight Sciences, which provided the wings, plus DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and NASA.

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