Two of the biggest topics of discussion in the aviation industry in recent years have been Unmanned Aerial Vehicles(UAVs) and alternative fuels. Hidden in the Boeing 787 news last week is another story from Boeing that will play a role in both of those topics.
The Boeing Phantom Eye is a liquid hydrogen-powered high altitude long endurance unmanned aircraft system that could have a tremendous impact on the future of aviation. As you can see in the video below, it looks pretty cool too.
I have written about UAVs before, and become increasingly interested in them the more that I learn about projects like this. The Phantom Eye is designed to fly at altitudes of up to 65,000 feet, and stay airborne for as long as four days. You want to talk about options? Having an airframe that could stay airborne for four days at incredibly high altitudes gives all kinds of options when it comes to military applications, or even civilians when it comes to disaster relief and other situations where having an “eye in the sky” would prove useful.
One of the biggest pieces of news in this story is the use of liquid hydrogen as fuel instead of traditional fossil fuels. I don’t necessarily think that liquid hydrogen is the answer to our long-term fuel issues, but the fact that companies are actively pursuing other fuels gives me hope for the future. We don’t need one fuel to replace fossil fuels, but if we can come up with new technologies to ease the burden in certain parts of the industry then we are moving in the right direction.
Last week the Phantom Eye performed taxi tests in preparation for its second flight later this year. Improvements had been made since its first flight on June 1, 2012. One of the most notable improvements was to the landing gear. Learning from the landing gear on the F/A-18 Hornet they were able to make this landing gear more durable after the first attempt resulted in the gear collapsing on landing.