The US military’s DARPA has signed an $89 million deal with Boeing for the development of a solar powered, unmanned aircraft that could stay aloft for more than five years. Of course, the aircraft would be used in espionage purposes, but the concept is also a testing ground for civilian purposes.
Codenamed SolarEagle, the aircraft will make its first flight in 2014, when it will first stay in the upper atmosphere for a month. The power harvested from the Sun during the day will be stored in the form of hydrogen, which will power the fuel cells during the night.
“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 for Vulture II.
“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,” he says.
The SolarEagle’s prototype, developed by Phantom Works, Boeing’s R&D department, will have a 400-foot wingspan for staying aloft easier and having a good aerodynamic performance.
Phantom Works is also working on a fighter-sized, unmanned, advanced technology demonstrator called Phantom Ray, scheduled to make its first flight in early 2011. The idea resembles that in the movie “Stealth” and may one day become reality.
It’s normal that corporations like Boeing are selected to design technologies for the military, it always was. But embedding green technology in those military applications is nowadays a good sign that in a few years that knowledge will be adapted to more benign applications in the civilian world.