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


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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The World’s First “Spherical Flying Machine”

The first aeronautical invention that I wanted to talk about is more of a neat and impressive novelty than a creation that will forever change the aerospace industry, but nevertheless I thought it was worth highlighting.

Around a year and a half ago, the world’s first spherical flying machine was developed. It is remote controlled and similar to a helicopter in that there is a main propeller that provides lift when taking off, but the entire contraption is surrounded by rings that provide a spherical exoskeleton about 16 inches in diameter. It also has similarities to an airplane’s control surfaces in the form of wings that provide lift when the machine pitches sideways to fly forward. These wings and the propeller may make it seem like a simple combination of a plane and a helicopter, but the design is much more creative than that. 

Its most exciting features are not related to its performance or agility. Rather, most of the hype about this invention comes from the potential applications that would be made possible by the spherical apparatus on the outside of the machine. Unlike any other helicopter or aircraft in the world, the spherical flying machine can literally run into the ground, walls, or other flying objects without crashing. In the video debut, the demonstrator shows this by swatting at the machine while it is in flight. The spherical exoskeleton protects the propeller and wings from coming into contact with anything while the three on-board gyro sensors keep it stable in flight during a collision. Another couple fantastic features that this design allows is the ability to roll around on the ground in a desired direction and the ability to fly while staying in contact with a wall, both of which are very impressive and completely original as far as I know.

The only somewhat annoying thing about this creation is that it was invented by the Japanese Defense Ministry, not the U.S. I am not entirely sure what Japan plans to use this technology for, but I imagine that it could be the basis for a whole new style of unmanned drone technology that could go places that obviously no other drones could go. I wish the U.S had been able to invent something like this first, solely for bragging rights, but regardless it is still very impressive that somebody was able to invent an entirely new design for a flying object. That level of creativity is not something that you see every day.

Here is the link if you wish to watch the actual video demonstration of the “spherical flying machine”:


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