Aerospace company Boeing has completed the first autonomous flight of its ‘Phantom Eye’ unmanned aerial vehicle at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
The 28-minute flight occurred on June 1 at 6:22 a.m. Pacific time as the liquid-hydrogen powered aircraft lifted off its launch cart, Boeing says. The Phantom Eye climbed to an altitude of 4,080 feet and reached a cruising speed of 62 knots. After touching down, the vehicle sustained some damage when the landing gear dug into the lakebed and broke, the company says.
The flight “ushers in a new era of persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR)” where an unmanned aircraft will remain aloft for days at a time providing critical information and services, said Darryl Davis, Boeing Phantom Works’ president. “This flight puts Boeing on a path to accomplish another aerospace first, the capability of four days of unrefueled, autonomous flight,” he said.
“This flight demonstrated Phantom Eye's initial handling and maneuverability capabilities,” said Drew Mallow, Phantom Eye program manager. “The team is now analyzing data from the mission and preparing for our next flight. When we fly the demonstrator again, we will enter higher and more demanding envelopes of high-altitude flight.”
Phantom Eye’s liquid-hydrogen propulsion system will enable the aircraft to stay airborne for up to four days straight while providing persistent monitoring over large areas at a ceiling of up to 65,000 feet, creating only water as a byproduct. The demonstrator, with its 150-foot wingspan, is capable of carrying a 450-pound payload.