Feeds

Hydrogen powered hybrid stratocraft prangs during test flight

Special-ops comms bird built for a week 12 miles up

High performance access to file storage

A radical new prototype hydrogen-powered high altitude robot aircraft, intended to remain airborne for a week at a time, has crashed during a test flight in California.

The Global Observer drone, which had taken off 18 hours previously from Edwards airforce base, was lost at 2:30pm local time on Friday. It was the aircraft's ninth test flight in a technology-demonstration programme intended to prove endurance of at least five days cruising at 65,000 feet.

"Flight testing an innovative new solution like Global Observer involves pushing the frontiers of technology and convention," said Tim Conver, CEO of famous crazy-planes firm AeroVironment, manufacturer of the Observer. "Risk is a component of every flight test program."

The Global Observer was being developed for various US government bodies, including the military special-operations command. It was expected to be able to remain on station 12 miles up above battlefields, with only small numbers of aircraft based safely far away able to maintain constant patrols. It would have carried communications equipment able to provide high-bandwidth services to small, portable ground terminals using compact antennae.

At the moment US special ops teams or others far from groundbased wireless coverage must typically accept rubbish bandwidth or set up a bulky, inconvenient satellite antenna, or arrange for an expensive conventional comms aircraft on station overhead, a commitment which means tying up a lot of planes and personnel. Thus the capability offered by the Global Observer and its various rivals (other high-altitude hydrogen planes, dirigible sperm-ships etc) remains highly desirable.

The Global Observer was expected to achieve excellent high-altitude performance and long endurance by its use of electrically-driven propellors hooked up to a battery supplied by a generator. This generator was driven by an internal-combustion engine running on hydrogen.

The electric transmission is a signature method for AeroVironment, which has built many other electrically-propelled aircraft. The Global Observer's rival in the 65,000-foot drone arena, the Phantom Eye from Boeing, uses two slightly modified turbocharged Ford Fusion car engines running on hydrogen: but these drive the props directly. The Phantom Eye is only expected to offer four days' endurance, as compared to a probable seven for the hybridised Observer.

No details on the problems which caused the Observer to crash are yet available. Another Observer prototype has been built and might proceed with testing, but AeroVironment admits that most of the project's funding has already been spent. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Russian deputy PM: 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'
Plans to annex Earth's satellite with permanent base by 2030
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
Get your MOON GEAR: Auction to feature Space Race memorabilia
Keepsakes from early NASA, Soviet programs up for bids
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.