Boeing unveils hydrogen-powered unmanned aircraft

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Boeing has taken the wraps off its hydrogen-powered Phantom Eye unmanned airborne system, a vehicle that will stay aloft at 65,000ft for up to four days.

Later this summer, Phantom Eye will be shipped to NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California, to begin a series of ground and taxi tests in preparation for its first flight in early 2011. That debut flight is expected to last between four and eight hours.

Phantom Eye is powered by two 2.3-litre, four-cylinder engines that provide 150 horsepower each. It has a 150ft wingspan, will cruise at approximately 150 knots and can carry up to a 450lb payload.

Key suppliers and partners that worked with Boeing to develop the aircraft include include Ford, who developed the engines, Turbosolutions Engineering, who produced the aircraft’s turbochargers, and Mahle Powertrain, who provided the propulsion controls.

Engineers at Ball Aerospace were responsible for designing the fuel tank, while their counterparts at Aurora Flight Sciences developed the wing.

The entire propulsion system − including the engine, turbo chargers and engine-control system − successfully completed an 80-hour test in an altitude chamber in March this year, which cleared the way for the propulsion system to be assembled into the vehicle.

Phantom Eye evolved from Boeing’s earlier success with the piston-powered Condor that set several records for altitude and endurance in the late 1980s.