Feeds

Boeing's 'Phantom Eye' Ford Fusion powered stratocraft

Twin car engines let robocraft make 4-day flights

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

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.

The Phantom Eye UAV at its rollout ceremony. Credit: Boeing

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. ®

Bootnote

*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.

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
TRIANGULAR orbits will help Rosetta to get up close with Comet 67P
Probe will be just 10km from Space Duck in October
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
Why your mum was WRONG about whiffy tattooed people
They're a future source of RENEWABLE ENERGY
Vulture 2 spaceplane autopilot brain surgery a total success
LOHAN slips into some sexy bespoke mission parameters
LOHAN acquires aircraft arboreal avoidance algorithm acronyms
Is that an ARMADILLO in your PANTS or are you just pleased to see me?
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.