Boeing's 'Phantom Eye' Ford Fusion powered stratocraft
Twin car engines let robocraft make 4-day flights
US aerospace mammoth Boeing yesterday rolled out its "Phantom Eye" unmanned strato-plane, able to cruise high above the airlanes for up to four days - powered by two ordinary Ford car engines running on hydrogen.
Just bolt on a couple of Ford Fusion engines and you're done.
"The program is moving quickly, and it’s exciting to be part of such a unique aircraft," said Drew Mallow, Phantom Eye program manager, in a statement issued yesterday. "The hydrogen propulsion system will be the key to Phantom Eye's success. It is very efficient and offers great fuel economy, and its only byproduct is water, so it's also a 'green' aircraft."
To be specific, the Phantom Eye uses 2.3 litre four-cylinder engines of a type normally found in some models of petrol-burning Ford Fusion, turbocharged and tweaked so as to run on hydrogen at 65,000 feet.
Four days would suggest pretty good fuel economy, right enough. However "green" is a bit of a stretch as hydrogen at the moment is normally made by reforming natural gas. This releases copious amounts of carbon into the atmosphere - usually more than one would generate by running an ordinary fossil-fuelled car engine - so it is hardly green*.
One might also quibble with the "moving quickly" description of Phantom Eye. True, Boeing announced that it would start work on the Eye only in March, which would suggest impressive speed by the Phantom Works engineers.
In fact, however, the company has been touting Ford-powered high altitude drones for several years now. Indeed, back in 2007 it managed to get some military development cash for the previous "Orion" single-engined version, which could also stay up for four days. At that time, Boeing considered that a twin-engined job along Phantom Eye lines would be good for 10 days, not four - though the firm seems to have walked back on that somewhat.
Phantom Eye, then, hasn't appeared with lightning swiftness: though one might excuse the Phantom Works engineers for that. The event which actually got the ball rolling again on the Phantom Eye was Boeing's decision to provide development cash itself, having failed to get any from government customers. Lately, companies such as General Atomics have won a lot of government UAV business by offering finished products rather than insisting on taxpayers furnishing development money up front.
The next move for Phantom Eye is shipment to NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California. It's expected to make its first flight next year. ®
*Hydrogen might be made greenly in future by cracking water with electricity; however at current 'leccy prices this is more expensive than gas reforming. Then, hydrogen is difficult and expensive to store and transport afterwards as well. At the moment, for military users - the likeliest initial Phantom Eye customers - it will be easier to set up transportable gas-fuelled hydrogen plants at airbases as necessary.
A degree of magnitude?
That must be 1/360th of an order of magnitude, then.
"Blighty's fighter factories haven't built a new plane on their own since the 1960s"
Yeah, that's something to do with the UK having FRIENDS, so they all club in together. It's a bit like saying "New York state hasn't build a new plane on their own..."
Also the UK is not totally paranoid (well not all of it) from too much acid, so actually trusts the other partner countries to work on stuff together.
One could also argue that the UK doesn't need as many war machines; it doesn't go poking hornets nests as much (although seems to follow along in the background far too often).
using power from the mains tends to be better than burning fuel in your car. Those power plants generate a lot of power v carbon generated (at least compared to your car) and some of it does come from "green" sources.
Though we could always bite the bullet and build some more clean power supplies. You know, nuclear power, none of that uselessly expensive wind/solar/hydro stuff.