June 22, 2012
Credit: Credit: Boeing
Edwards AFB, Calif. — Boeing is hoping to return the liquid hydrogen-fueled Phantom Eye unmanned aircraft demonstrator to flight this year after the air vehicle suffered damage on landing following its June 1 first flight.
The root cause analysis and damage assessment of the Phantom Eye is now near its end, with the final root cause analysis for the nose landing gear failure due next week, says Boeing’s program manager, Andrew Mallow. The problem appears linked to the design of the gear, rather than a materials issue.
Most of the damage to the Phantom Eye is structural (on the wing and nose section, for instance) and appears relatively easy to fix. Some strengthening of parts of the structure may be needed for a more robust nose landing gear.
Once the assessment is finalized, a new program plan will be set, Mallow says, noting that he’d like to see the air vehicle fly again this year.
Boeing has brought in some F/A-18 landing gear experts to help with the redesign. The skid main landing gear proved itself in the first flight, although minor changes may be made.
The overall program impact is relatively minor, Mallow suggests, noting that Boeing already was considering an aircraft modification after first flight to implement some electrical changes and make an oil pump change.
Phantom Eye flew for 28 min. at Edwards AFB, Calif., and reached around 4,000 ft. The near-term plan would be to reach 10,000 ft. and then increase altitude to 65,000 ft. in 10,000-ft. increments. The vehicle is designed to stay aloft four days, but that may never be tested mainly because of the logistics of personnel management for such an effort.
An operational version would be designed to stay airborne up to 10 days, depending on the payload size. Carrying around 2,500 lb. of payload would result in an endurance of around seven days. The vehicle would have a 250-ft. wingspan.
Boeing sees Phantom Eye benefitting even as the Global Hawk Block 30 unmanned aircraft and the Blue Devil 2 airship suffer under Air Force budget pressure. The financial constraints “we see as a benefit,” says James Dodd, vice president of Advanced Boeing Military Aircraft at Boeing Phantom Works. “Phantom Eye’s cost per flight hour is a lot less than particularly Global Hawk,” he asserts.