The U.S. Air Force has been asking for someone to design a reconnaissance aircraft that can fly high (19,600 meters/65,000 feet) for up to a week and carry a ton of sensors and computers. Top speed is 270 kilometers an hour although cruising speed is closer to 200. Boeing accepted the challenge and began reworking some old design ideas with more recent off-shelf technology to produce Phantom Eye. The Department of Defense provided some money to build and test a 2/3 size prototype. By June 2012 the prototype was completed and made the first flight. Since then Phantom Eye has flown five more times, with modifications made after each flight. The air force was so impressed that Phantom Eye was promoted from unproven to experimental status in record time and get to the next level, which will provide the money for a full scale prototype.
Phantom Eye currently exists as a twin engine aircraft with a 46 meter (150 feet) wingspan and 205 kg (450 pound) payload. The two propeller engines are fueled by liquid hydrogen. The full scale Phantom Eye would be able to stay in the air up to ten days at a time. At 19,000 meters the aircraft is above the weather. With a ton of sensors and electrical power generated by the aircraft engines the Phantom Eye could monitor thousands of square kilometers of land below, day and night and in all weather. Such HALE (High Altitude Long Endurance) aircraft are much cheaper and more flexible than satellites. If the full scale Phantom Eye works as planned it would be a much cheaper way to obtain “satellite” coverage. Phantom Eye would have commercial as well as military uses and be a real lifesaver in large scale natural disasters (earthquakes, floods, typhoons and hurricanes.)