Huge New Hydrogen-Powered Spy Drone Takes Test Flight

Phantom Eye spy plane can stay aloft for four days.

June 05, 2012, 5:59 PM

June 5, 2012 — -- A new unmanned surveillance drone that can stay aloft for four days at a time and has a wingspan bigger than a 757 successfully completed its first test flight over California's Mojave Desert, though it sustained minor damage on landing.

Boeing's Phantom Eye drone, which is powered by liquid hydrogen, flew for less than half an hour at 4,000 feet before touching down on a dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base near Bakersfield. The landing gear dug into the ground on landing, causing minor damage.

Most surveillance drones currently in use in the ongoing U.S. drone war against al Qaeda and the Taliban can stay in the air for a maximum of 40 hours without refueling. The Phantom Eye's unique liquid hydrogen propulsion system is meant to keep the spy plane aloft for up to four days at altitudes of 65,000 feet.

"This flight puts Boeing on a path to accomplish another aerospace first," said Darryl Davis, president of Boeing Phantom Works. Davis said the Phantom Eye would provide greater amounts of "persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance" over broader swathes of land.

The Phantom Eye has two 150-horsepower engines, can carry 450 pounds of surveillance gear, and has a wingspan of 150 feet, 25 feet more than the Boeing 757. The Phantom Eye was unveiled in 2010.

"The team is now analyzing data from the mission and preparing for our next flight," said Phantom Eye program manager Drew Mallow in a statement. "When we fly the demonstrator again, we will enter higher and more demanding envelopes of high-altitude flight."

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