Hydrogen-powered unmanned aircraft takes first flight

AeroVironment testing hydrogen powered unmanned aircraft

A hydrogen powered unmanned aircraft successfully completed its first flight recently flying four hours and climbing to an altitude of 5,000 feet.

The AeroVironment Global Observer is going through flight tests that in the end will produce aircraft that promises to fly up 400lbs of payload to 65,000 feet, while staying aloft for up to seven days.  The company envisions the aircraft in a number of applications, from being a satellite-like communications link to emergency response and surveillance. 

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According to the company: "These flights will include the Air Force's Joint Aerial Layer Network Tactical Communications Suite payload. This capability provides persistent, IP-based aerial communications infrastructure that extends communications from a Global Observer aircraft positioned at 65,000 feet above sea level. The joint operational utility of the Global Observer system will also be assessed during this flight test series for future U.S. Government, civil, and military uses."

AeroVironment isn't the only manufacturer developing hydrogen powered unmanned aircraft.  Boeing recently rolled out a liquid hydrogen-powered unmanned aircraft it says can fly at high altitudes for up to four days.

The Phantom Eye demonstrator is powered by two 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engines that provide 150 horsepower each. It has a 150-foot wingspan, will cruise at approximately 150 knots and can carry up to a 450-pound payload at  65,000 feet.

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The driving idea behind Phantom Eye is  that it could park itself high over a specific location for intelligence gathering, reconnaissance, surveillance and communication.

According to the AVWeb site: "The twin-engine Phantom Eye demonstrator aircraft will have a 150-foot wingspan. Successful testing could make it the precursor of a larger HALE that would carry 2,000 pounds for more than 10 days. A third design, the Phantom Ray, is also expected to evolve from the program and may be the first to fly. The Ray will be a fighter-sized UAV designed as a flying test bed for advanced technologies. Phantom Eye is the evolution of Boeing's earlier piston-powered Condor, an aircraft that set records for altitude and endurance in the late 1980s.  Boeing expects first flight of the Phantom Eye UAV to take place early next year."

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