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Boeing's Hydrogen-Powered Spy Plane Could Fly Four Days Straight

July 14, 2010
Phantom Eye can reach altitudes of 65,000 feet and run for 96 hours, emitting only water.

The Phantom Eye is neither the latest villain from a Star Wars sequel, nor a low-budget horror flick. In fact, it is Boeing's most recent advanced technology in spy planes. The high-altitude unmanned hydrogen-power aircraft can fly non-stop for up to four days, reaching heights of 65,000 feet.

There several notable distinctions that separate the Phantom Eye from other spy planes. The first and most obvious is its sheer size: it's massive. Powered by two 2.3 liter, four cylinder engines that create 150 horsepower each, it has a 150 foot wingspan and can cruise at 150 knots.

The most notable difference between the aircraft and other drone technologies is the longevity of its flights. Northrup Grumman's Global Hawk, for example, can match the Phantom Eye's maximum altitude of 65,000 feet, but only 30 hours.

Boeing's hydrogen powered plane, the Phantom Eye, will prepare for its first flight in 2011.According to Boeing, the company is aiming for a 96-hour flight during its first test early in 2011. The plane is scheduled later this summer to be shipped to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California to begin preliminary testing.

Boeing has thus far been noticeably vague on specifics as to its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technologies, noting only that the plane "could open up a whole new market in collecting data and communications."

The propulsion system is unique in that it runs on hydrogen, which, according to Boeing, produces no emissions -- only water.

"'The hydrogen propulsion system will be the key to Phantom Eye's success," says Drew Mallow, Phantom Eye program manager for Boeing. "It is very efficient and offers great fuel economy, and its only byproduct is water, so it's also a 'green' aircraft."

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