The U.S. military will soon have a new solar-powered unmanned spy aircraft that can fly non-stop for more than five years.
The aircraft, called SolarEagle, which is being built by Boeing is designed in such a way that it can soar in the upper atmosphere for years, constantly sending surveillance and intelligence information back to the ground.
The U.S. military has already given Boeing an $ 89-million contract to develop a SolarEagle demonstrator which will make its first flight in 2014, the Daily Mail reported.
During testing, the SolarEagle demonstrator will remain in the upper atmosphere for 30 days, harvesting solar energy during the day that will be stored in fuel cells and used to provide power through the night, it said.
The aircraft will have highly efficient electric motors and propellers along with a 400-foot wing for increased solar power and aerodynamic performance.
Pat O’Neil, Boeing Phantom Works program manager for Vulture II, said: “SolarEagle is a uniquely configured, large unmanned aircraft designed to eventually remain on station at stratospheric altitudes for at least five years.
“That’s a daunting task, but Boeing has a highly reliable solar-electric design that will meet the challenge in order to perform persistent communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions from altitudes above 60,000 feet.”
According to the report, the aircraft’s developer Phantom Works, Boeing’s research and development arm, is also working on a fighter-sized, unmanned, advanced technology demonstrator called Phantom Ray, scheduled to make its first flight in early 2011.
Its other projects included a hydrogen-powered aircraft called Phantom Eye - a High Altitude Long Endurance aircraft that can stay aloft for up to four days. It is also scheduled to make its first flight in 2011.