Electronics & Test
Video: Boeing's Phantom Unmanned Aircraft Takes Flight

Boeing's Phantom Eye drone takes off for its first autonomous flight June 1 at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The drone achieved an altitude of 4,080 feet and a cruising altitude of 62 knots in its 28-minute flight. (Source: Boeing)
Boeing's Phantom Eye drone takes off for its first autonomous flight June 1 at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The drone achieved an altitude of 4,080 feet
and a cruising altitude of 62 knots in its 28-minute flight.
(Source: Boeing)

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Beth Stackpole
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Drones becoming a preferred approach
Beth Stackpole   6/11/2012 8:51:51 AM
Interesting clip. I just recently heard a program on NPR discussing this administration's preference for drone war strikes because of the so-called "limited collatoral damage." The thrust of the interview, though, was commentary from a journalist in the field where drones frequently fly and the terror they command among civilian population. His point was that even though drones are positioned as less invasive and more targeted than traditional war fare, they are still killing machines and should be used sparingly.

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New propulsion system
naperlou   6/11/2012 8:57:34 AM
Elizabeth, that hydrogen propulsion system sounds very interesting.  Perhaps we could get more information about that.

Drones that can loiter that high and long will be very useful in many areas of security.  Couple that with satelites and you have a system that will make it hard for the bad guys to hide.

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tekochip   6/11/2012 9:58:21 AM
There's a bunch of technology bundled into that craft and I'd like to hear more about the propulsion system. It's tough to imagine a prop driven craft at FL65.

TJ McDermott
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Re: Drones becoming a preferred approach
TJ McDermott   6/11/2012 11:09:51 PM
Beth, in the type of combat environment that Afghanistan is, I think drones dropping bombs is a mistake.  The human deciding to release the bomb bases the decision on what can be seen from a video screen, and what can be relayed via radio from ground observers.

Too many civilian casualties have occurred from this sort of air strike.  Having a human on board, using eyeballs directly, may prevent civilian casualties and improve the political environment.

Drone strikes in a more direct combat environment are terrific; they keep the operators safe.  In attacks close to civilians, they are not the right tool.

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Drones becoming a preferred approach
Beth Stackpole   6/12/2012 8:27:12 AM
@TJ: That was the point the journalist I heard was trying to make. That drones are not the simple answer for avoiding human casualty. That said, it seems that a lot of R&D dollars will go into advancing drones and in particular, their intelligence systems. Perhaps via that work and with improved global positioning and visualization technology, we can strive for better accuracy and less casualties on the ground.

TJ McDermott
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Re: Drones becoming a preferred approach
TJ McDermott   6/12/2012 9:52:11 AM
The drones are terrific for avoiding US casualties; the pilot's on a different continent.


There needs to be more human verification in the launch loop, not less.  To add more artificial intelligence leads us inevitably to Skynet...

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flying Dumbo
big2thumbs   6/12/2012 10:11:13 AM
That looks like a very large drone.  Isn't one of the points of these things is to be small and stealthy?  The size of the props looks like they would be noisey too.

Still, it's cool and I can think of many uses for it.

(The author copied and pasted an important take-away 3 times with a bad typo repeated on each one:  "...cruising altitude of 62 knots..")

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Re: Drones becoming a preferred approach
ChasChas   6/12/2012 10:19:38 AM

We know the type of enemy we face now has no regard for human life, yet they say everything we hit is a childeren's hospital or an old age home. There is no winning the political war against these people.

It is up to them to protect their own civilians. They sure don't look out for ours. In fact they use their own as human shields, playing our sympathies.

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Hydrogen Power
j-allen   6/12/2012 10:56:23 AM
Let's be clear about hydrogen as a clean fuel. While the hydrogen itself is "green" the gas does not come out of a well in Texas, nor even from some country we might conquer.  The only commercial sources of hydrogen are cracking a hydrocarbon, or  electrolyzing water.  These processes consume about 2 to 3 times as much fossil fuel energy as you ultimately get from the hydrogen. this doesn't even include the refrigeration process to liquify the hydrogen.  The sole advantage of hydrogen in this aircraft is that you get more endurance per unit weight than you would with gasoline engines.  


If the goal is to maintain a high altitued observation platform, might we do better by using the hydrogen as lifting gas in a dirigible?

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Re: Hydrogen Power
robatnorcross   6/12/2012 3:57:58 PM
I suspect that the use of hydrogen (liquid) is a result of a huge H2 plant that must have been mothballed due to the end of the shuttle program. I believe that Air Products was making the H2 for the program which needed TONS of it for every launch.

J-allen is right. The most economical way that commercial producers make hydrogen (like Air Products) is to reform it ("Reform" is the term used to describe the process) from natural gas.

The commercial producers would electrolyze it if it were cheaper to obtain it that way.

The single biggest problem with hydrogen is how to store it. Gaseous form is not nearly dense enough and liquid storage requires cryogenics. Metal hydrides will actually store hydrogen at higher density than liquid in the same size container (still seems counter intuitive to me) but the metal hydride is very heavy and adds hundreds of pounds even in an automotive application.

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