Boeing is developing a solar-powered unmanned aircraft that can remain in the air for five years non-stop.
The airplane is named SolarEagle and is designed to fly in the upper atmosphere for long periods of time, providing surveillance and intelligence information to the ground.
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The US military has given Boeing a $89 million contract to develop a SolarEagle demonstrator vehicle which will make its first flight in 2014.
During testing, the SolarEagle demonstrator will stay in the upper atmosphere for 30 days, collecting solar energy during the day that will be stored in fuel cells and used to provide power through the night.
The amazing solar-powered plane will have highly efficient electric motors and propellers. Its wings — spanning some 400 feet — will be covered with solar panels, which will power propellers and feed fuel cells during daylight hours.
“SolarEagle is a uniquely configured, large unmanned aircraft designed to eventually remain on station at stratospheric altitudes for at least five years,” said Pat O’Neil, Boeing Phantom Works program manager.
“That’s a daunting task, but Boeing has a highly reliable solar-electric design that will meet the challenge in order to perform persistent communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions from altitudes above 60,000 feet.”
The last solar-powered aircraft to break the record for an unmanned plane was the British-designed Zephyr in July. Designed by British defense firm QinetiQ, the Zephyr flew for two weeks non-stop above a U.S. Army range in Arizona before finally landing.
Zephyr by QinetiQ: Credit: QinetiQ.
Watch Zephyr by QinetiQ video.
Beyond SolarEagle, Phantom Works is developing several other unmanned prototypes, such as the Phantom Ray – a fighter-sized, advanced technology demonstration scheduled to make its first flight in early 2011.
Boeing’s Phantom Ray: The wing is the plane. Credit: Boeing.
Watch Boeing’s Phantom Ray video.
The Phantom Eye, a hydrogen-powered, high-altitude aircraft designed to stay in the air for up to four days, is another also scheduled to debut in 2011.
Boeing Phantom Eye: Credit: Boeing.
Watch Boeing Phantom Eye video.