The Boeing Aerospace Company’s Phantom Works Division will unveil its unmanned flight in 2014. The aircraft named ‘Solar Eagle’ is designed to operate continuously and remain on station at stratospheric altitudes for at least five years. The aircraft will feature highly-efficient electric motors and propellers and also exhibit good aerodynamic performance along with high aspect ratio with the help of its 400 feet wings. The solar energy harvested by the vehicle during the daytime will be stored in specially configured fuel cells and will be utilized during the night.
During the demonstration flight, the Solar Eagle will remain in the upper atmosphere for 30 days. This demonstrator vehicle is developed as part of the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) ‘Vulture program’.
The program which costs $89 million had entered its second phase. It aims at developing the technology to enable a single high-altitude unmanned airplane (UAV).
Program manager of Boeing Phantom Works Pat O’ Neil has been quoted by Gizmag as saying that the endeavor would be a daunting task. He added that their highly reliable solar-electric design will meet the challenge of aircraft remaining in the skies for extended hours in order to perform persistent communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions from altitudes above 60,000 feet.
Boeing is teaming up with QinetiQ and Versa Power Systems for the program. The United Kingdom-based QinetiQ Ltd. has developed ‘The Zephyr’, a solar-powered, high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial system before. The Zephyr has also set record for its absolute flight duration of 336 hours 22 minutes.
Boeing is not only looking at solar power as the sole energy source to depend on. The aviation major is also working on a hydrogen-powered demonstrator called the ‘Phantom Eye’, a High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) aircraft.
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