The New Eye in the Sky: The Boeing “Phantom Eye”

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The Boeing Phantom Eye is a propeller-driven, unmanned, high altitude, long endurance aircraft that can be used for many purposes including intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, communication with our Navy, disaster relief, and search and rescue. The project is still in the testing phase and is completely internally funded which shows the level of confidence that Boeing has in the aircraft’s potential.

As far as I know, there have only been two test flights of the Phantom. The first one was in June of 2012 where the aircraft reached an altitude of 4,080 feet and flew for 28 minutes, but then had a rocky landing when the landing gear malfunctioned and dug into the ground instead of allowing a smooth stop which caused some damage to come to the aircraft. For the second flight, which took place on February 25th, 2013, the development team made sure to upgrade the landing gear software to ensure a perfect landing. During that second flight the Phantom reached 8,000 feet and flew for 66 minutes.

One of the main innovations with this plane is that it can fly for four days at an altitude of 65,000 feet with a 450 pound payload of surveillance equipment. This is quite an impressive design because of its ability to carry such a large payload while maintaining a very long flight time as far as UAVs go.  What I don’t understand is why neither of those flights came close to testing the four day time period that Boeing claims the plane can fly for on one tank of fuel. I am assuming that they did not want to test that limit of the plane just yet, but I am not sure why that is. In either case, the flights were successes, proving that this is a valid design for an aircraft.

That is not what amazes me the most though. What is so fascinating to me has to do with how environmentally conscious this design is. The Phantom runs entirely on liquid hydrogen. This means that when that fuel is combusted in the engine, the only byproduct is water! This in itself is an incredible example of human innovation, but what amazes me about it is that the military is developing this technology! When I think of military aircraft  the first thing that comes to my mind is the Lockheed Martin SR-71 Blackbird which flies at over 2,000 mph and uses up almost all of its fuel reserves just to get off the ground. My point is that when it comes to military aircraft, performance is always the first priority and they traditionally do not take into account environmental friendliness for fear of sacrificing performance. The Phantom completely breaks that stereo type. Boeing was so innovative that they came up with a design for this airplane that could be extremely environmentally conscious while still having the best performance. The fact that this plane combines those two qualities in its design is what makes it so incredible. Hopefully we will see this technology put to good use in our military, and from there it will inspire people to move in a new line of thinking when designing future military aircraft.

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