Hydrogen-Powered Phantom Eye Takes Flight


DIYDrones member and SUAS News author Gary Mortimer wrote an interesting article about the first flight tests of the Boeing Hydrogen-Powered Phantom Eye UAV. The story has also been syndicated at Slashdot.


The platform will no doubt generate interest outside of military applications because a hydrogen energy storage presumably offers a higher energy storage potential than current battery technologies. I look forward to learning more about why hydrogen energy storage was selected. For those of you who follow discussions about alternative sources and storage methods for transportation, Dr. Richard Muller has a number of excellent, publicly available lectures on the realities of energy density, the (simplified) numbers behind gas, cookie powered propulsion, battery energy density and losses, and why hydrogen isn't necessarily an environmentally friendly alternative to gasoline in his outstanding Physics for Future Presidents lectures. 


While Boeing is principally targeting military applications for this platform, NASA, NOAA, and dozens of other scientific teams will no doubt have similar application requirements. If this makes sense for Boeing's perceived military applications (and I'd personally like to learn more about what design targets were met with this alternative approach) it almost certainly makes sense for atmospheric, weather, disaster assistance, search and rescue, and similar applications. 




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  • Martin, I would love to see them show a video of that skid landing.  They must have some serious autopilot software, or a steely nerved, UAV pilot.

  • Ok, picking this up again.  I'm not just talking about how efficient a gas engine is in burning gasoline.  In fact I'm referring to how efficient is it in extracting all the chemically energy from the gasoline.  When burning it, the gasoline is in fact not totally consumed.  Because what we call "pollution" is in fact residual fuel.  The energy to move a car at a particular speed, is in fact far less than what we would get if we broke down all the C, H, O bonds in the gasoline.

    The technology in catalytic converters, is actually good at breaking down the rest of the bonds, and what comes out the other end contains much less residual fuel.  In fact a catalytic converter also burns/oxidises left over hydro carbon.  Now if someone can figure out a way to generate electricity using that. 

  • Chris: Here is what Boeing had to say about your inquiry:

    "Thanks for the question. The Phantom Eye lands like a glider on a skid plate and nose gear. No landing gear means less weight and complexity."

  • Hindenburg?clone ?  Kaboom?I thought it would be cool to pull electrons from spent uranium align them and make a nuclear battery I remember I had a  watch once that had a wafer of tritium for power I think they they put a nuclear battery on one of the deep space probes ? Voyager? What happened to that technology? A  triple A battery would keep you flying for days! I notice from the picture drones are starting to go full scale. the ting is not light notice sitting on the ground what looks like wing struts are bowed down on take off they are stretched tight to keep the wing from bending . Might be an add on to my radian to keep the wings from bending! Have a great day guys!

  • Moderator

    No I don't know any details Monroe, I will ask. @Marooned, the USA would not let the Germans have any helium back in the day, hydrogen is not a whole lot more dangerous than petrol.

    I think the Zephyr electric method is actually a better plan than this one, but time will tell.

  • And what about a leakage of the hydrogen? Doesn't sound extremely safe. We had zeppelins back then.

  • Moderator

    I am very tempted to make an airframe copy of this one have been since I first saw it. I can hint but not confirm that it might be the only persistent platform around. The crew building another one have all been laid off or re assigned but I can't get the company concerned to confirm that. It would mean a very big project has either been cancelled or gone black.

  • Moderator

    @Monroe - my understanding and reading also agrees with the 40% view, however, I would like to offer that the efficiency increase potential can also be stated this way, that if a system is 40% efficient, the potential for improvement is to achieve 250% of the current yield, or a 150% increase over and above current use. That is a worthy challenge, I think. Even a modest improvement is significant, especially at the quantities in use. And the fuel (therefore the resulting pollution) is the same either way. Having 2x energy for the same pollution would really be something on a semi-global scale.

  • Moderator

    @Ellison - good point, but I think the numbers already account for that, in a way. That is, I know we are not communicating as much of the specific energy listed for gasoline into mechanical energy, a great deal of it goes into heat, sound, and mechanical "waste" energy. As a simple comparison, the numbers are still helpful, but you are right on about efficiency, we have a lot of potential to make these systems more efficient. Getting the energy out (easy with gasoline) is not the entire problem.... making efficient use of it is also a factor. Forget taxonomy multicopters... I want one that runs for a week on peanut butter....

  • Moderator

    @Monroe - Do you think they need to heat the fuel at all? Even at much higher altitudes, I think hydrogen boils off into a gas pretty reliably. The figures (at ground level) are -252.87C, -423.17F, 20.28K. Water, at least, boils and lower temperatures as pressure drops, so I'd think that the same would happen for hydrogen. What do you think? How high would you need to be before this became a problem?

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