Boeing recently signed an US$89 million contract with the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop and fly a high-altitude unmanned aircraft (UAV) for theVulture II demonstration program. The solar-powered aircraft,SolarEagle, is a full-scale demonstrator designed to stay continuouslyaloft for five years at high altitudes.
“Boeing has a highly reliable solar-electric design that will meetthe challenge in order to perform persistent communications,intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions from altitudesabove 60,000 feet,” according to Boeing Phantom Works Project ManagerPat O’Neil,
Solar panels will be mounted on the craft’s 400-foot wing, which isdesigned to increase aerodynamic performance and increase solar power.Solar energy will be harvested during daylight hours and stored in fuelcells to provide power during the night.
Equipped with high-efficiency electric motors and propellers, theSolarEagle will remain in the upper atmosphere for 30 days duringtesting.
The aircraft is being developed by the same team that is working onthe super-sleek Phantom Eye, an unmanned, hydrogen-powered demonstratorthat can stay aloft at 65,000 feet for up to four days. Earlier thissummer, Boeing unveiled the high altitude long endurance (HALE) aircraft at a ceremony in St. Louis.
According the Boeing Phantom Works President Darryl Davis, “PhantomEye is the first of its kind and could open up a whole new market incollecting data and communications.” With a 150-foot wingspan, PhantomEye is powered by two 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engines that will cruiseat about 170 miles per hour.
The debut flight of the Phantom Eye is expected to take place earlynext year while the SolarEagle’s first demo flight will take place in2014. Boeing, the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial jetlinersand military aircraft combined, employs about 160,000 people in 70different countries.
Image courtesy of Boeing