Home » Air » Drones » Boeing’s Giant Flying Tadpole Makes First Taxi Runs

Boeing’s Giant Flying Tadpole Makes First Taxi Runs

by John Reed on March 13, 2012

So uh, yeah. That awkward-looking thing is Boeing’s Phantom Eye high-altitude UAV design doing a 30-knot taxi test at Edwards Air Force Base on March 10.

Usually, we bring you clips and pictures of stealthy, jet-powered drones designed to penetrate enemy airspace and drop bombs taking to the skies for the first time at Edwards. Well, like the Phantom Ray and X-47B, Phantom Eye does represent the future of drones — just the not-as-sexy-to-look-at future of drones.

The hydrogen-powered beast — it’s damn big for a drone, with a 150-foot wingspan — is designed to stay aloft for four days carrying a 450-pound payload at altitudes of up to 65,000-feet. Phantom Eye and other so called, high-altitude long-enduarance (HALE) UAVs are equally important to the future of unmanned planes as the stealthy new fighter and attack style jets being developed. HALE drones will be able to carry massive amounts of long-range sensors and communications gear on missions to collect intel or relay data back and forth. Some even envision HALE drones staying aloft for weeks or months and serving as an atmospheric backup to our nation’s space satellites that do everything from spy  on enemies to provide us with GPS signals.

Here’s an excerpt from Boeing’s announcement of Phantom Eye’s taxi run:

The test was conducted March 10 at Edwards Air Force Base in coordination with the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center.
Phantom Eye, traveling atop its launching cart system, reached speeds of up to 30 knots as ground teams relayed directions and information using Boeing’s advanced Common Open-mission Management Command and Control (COMC2) software.

“The aircraft performed well and the data collected will help populate our models,” said Drew Mallow, Boeing Phantom Eye program manager. “This test brings us one step closer to our first flight.”


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{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

DougieR March 13, 2012 at 11:35 am

I realize it's supposed to stay up for a long time, but do they intend to belly land it when it comes back down? I don't see any provision for landing equipment at all.


Blight March 13, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Meaning you don't see landing gear?


DougieR March 13, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Gears. Skids. Pylons. All of the above…landing equipment. I see my question was answered below though.


blight_ March 13, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Yeah, mine too. Disregard prev post.


Steve March 13, 2012 at 3:29 pm

The main body is a MOAB and will crash land on whatever target it identifies.
It is not supposed to land, at least in the usual sense.
It could also be a pretty big FAE and could airbusrt with a nice little pop.


tiger March 13, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Actually 4 days worth of hydrogen is more likely.


BLWarmonger March 13, 2012 at 11:42 am


Phantom Eye takes off from a four-wheeled trolley and lands on a lightweight nosewheel and skids. This is the kind of weight-saving shortcut that is a pain in normal operations, but tolerable if takeoffs and landings occur once a week.


Blight March 13, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Sounds cheaper than trying to land on a moving trolley…


Mastro March 13, 2012 at 1:02 pm

"tolerable if takeoffs and landings occur once a week."

So crashes once a week are OK?


Musson1 March 13, 2012 at 11:46 am

If you look closely you can see the UAV driving across the border into Iran.

"I knew I should have taken a left turn at Albequerque!"


jsallison March 13, 2012 at 7:48 pm

I did turn left at Albequerque once, nay, twice, even onto I-40 but did they give me a t-shirt? Noooooo…


Mastro March 13, 2012 at 1:06 pm

I still don't get the hydrogen fuel- surely avgas would get better energy density? Have a longer range?

What- does the hydrogen make it eligible to use the carpool lane?


blight_ March 13, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Didn't Lockheed get socked with this during the '80s? A spyplane driven on hydrogen fuel?

Saw something on FastCompany about a matrix to store hydrogen at high densities under low pressure. Could be promising…


@ptitz March 13, 2012 at 1:33 pm

I think they even tried it first for blackbird first but sort of gave up on the idea when they had a leak in fuel storage hangar and entire thing went up in flames. Maybe they figured how to make it less hindenburg by now.


blight_ March 13, 2012 at 1:59 pm

More like the CL-400.


@ptitz March 13, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Hah, yeah, that would be the one. And im also sure nazis mustve had something to do with hydrogen as well. Sounds like their sort of thing.

Riceball March 14, 2012 at 10:48 am

I guess you didn't see the episode of Mythbusters where they showed that that the reason why the Hindenburg went up the way it did likely had more to do with the coating on the fabric that made up its outer skin than the hydrogen it used for lift. I'm not saying that the hydrogen didn't help contribute to it going up in flames like it did but the reason for it burning as quickly and as intensely as it did had pretty much everything to do with its skin coating which was flammable in the extreme.


Chuck March 14, 2012 at 4:25 pm

I thought the Mythbusters really showed that it was the combination of hydrogen and the material used for the skin. Neither hydrogen alone nor the akin material alone burned anywhere nearly as quickly as the combination did.

@ptitz March 13, 2012 at 1:37 pm

But ye, i assume there is some benefit of using hydrogen at high altitudes just as in case with blackbird.


Andrew Varley March 13, 2012 at 3:30 pm

it was the 60s I think. google "project suntan" for more details


blight_ March 13, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Yup, you were right. I even went to look up the CL-400 afterwards, but should've included the note that CL-400 was waybackwhen.


CoCowboy692000 March 13, 2012 at 3:28 pm

SERIOUSLY????? OMG! This is the best they can come up with, with decades of BLACK BUDGET R&D, and probably a cumulative TRILLIONS of dollars in budgets over the years?

SKEEE—-UZE ME - I'll be back… I have to go puke! I'll bring back a barf bag with me in case I see any more RIDICULOUS crap like this…

SHOW US WHAT WE'VE REALLY BEEN SPENDING OUR MONEY ON DANG IT! WE DESERVE IT AND WE'RE AT WAR… I want to know our sons and daughters have a fighting chance for once! This POS reminds me of the good ole days of $10,000.00 screwdrivers and $100,000.00 Potties….

PLEASE - Give us a break…


daskrp March 13, 2012 at 4:54 pm

This UAV isn't funded by the military, all company funded.


TMB March 13, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Dude, seriously, take your finger off the capslock and pay attention. It's basically a camera with wings. It's not supposed to cost a fortune. And as daskrp reminded you, this is internally funded by Boeing.


Hibby March 13, 2012 at 8:31 pm

What do you expect? Deathray equipped leviathans with bubble shields and teleportation?


SJE March 13, 2012 at 9:43 pm

No, but it would be cool. Also, Sharks with friggin lasers.


Big-Rick March 14, 2012 at 1:39 am

no, he wanted something with a freken lazer on it ;-D

Lance March 13, 2012 at 3:36 pm

I don't see it as the author says as sexy but looks cute though. LOL


Jazz ism March 13, 2012 at 4:58 pm

The Komet took off on a dolly and landed on a skid pretty regularily back in ’41-’42. Mind you it went through pilots like water as well. Saying it’s a hastle for the drone to take and like this is nonsense to me. It’s just a drone and it saves a lot of weight. Should be a quick zip onto the wheel dolly and truck it around.


Jazz ism March 13, 2012 at 5:04 pm

The Komet took off on a dolly and landed on a skid pretty regularily back in ’41-’42. Mind you it went through pilots like water as well. Saying it’s a hastle for the drone to take and like this is nonsense to me. It’s just a drone and it saves a lot of weight. Should be a quick zip onto the wheel dolly and truck it around. Ohh but that takes a couple guys and a truck …


Ronnie March 14, 2012 at 1:07 am

Quote, "populate are models." Verbal shit. That's how public funded employees talk…. they make up silly words and phrases. 'Globe opportunities, ' 'at the end of the day,".. "IMPACT your world'" and my ALL TIME favourite…wait for it…. "I have no imputs"

The collapse of American and western society can and will be measured by the "Free loader vocabulary."
PS that feels better


notasblindasyou March 14, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Your bold common sense invigorates my pride in what our country has become, under-educated and proud of it. btw…..your "quote" misquotes "our"

Side note, the fact that we have computerized fluid dynamic models for testing the viability our designs doesn't reflect negatively upon public funded employees. But you displaying your ignorance about how important computer models are to maintaining delicate control over computer controlled craft.

Western culture isn't collapsing, its shifting it's technologically advanced center towards Japan and South Korea. Take a look at bandwidth availability, and ubiquity of technology there, makes us look like bunch of Quakers.

ps I really hope you chose Ronnie based on mtv jerseywhore


adsy March 14, 2012 at 4:00 am

thats where your economy is guys, trinkets and one offs flying around the airspace. How many billions of dollars get pissed away each year, democrat or republican there always seems to be some odd military device floating around whose budget could fund U.S domestic medicare for years. Sure some are useful BUT are all of them worth the effort ask your local politician


Stegnar May 2, 2012 at 1:54 pm

This isn't funded by the government, it is being developed independantly by Boeing…you are ridiculous.


itfunk March 14, 2012 at 5:09 am

Yet another program with no operational use but designed to just bring in development revenues.


iBrinks March 14, 2012 at 9:41 am

That is certainly the ugliest thing I have seen to waddle into the air after 40 years of flight and ground test. Usually form follows function however now looks like we hired the moron crowd to design that one. Slush Hydrogen again? and a problem looking for a solution..


Anonymous March 14, 2012 at 11:41 am

FYI - this is an experimental prototype being funded by Boeing, not the US govt - they are hoping to attract a customer but don't have any yet


notasblindasyou March 14, 2012 at 1:06 pm

yea as if that internal R&D funding didn't come ostensibly from the taxpayers anyway….


Gunner777 March 14, 2012 at 12:44 pm

It seems like an very light payload for such a large UAV???


chaos0xomega March 14, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Dont understand why we would waste our money on something like this when a hybrid airship/dirigible could meet similar performance goals and, oh yeah, it would be cheaper to build, have a much lower operating cost, and could remain on station for a lot more than 4 days… probably closer to 4 months.


PolicyWonk March 15, 2012 at 8:06 am

Hydrogen is bulky - hence the shape of the fuselage. This beast doesn't need to be fast, and the shrinking size of electronics can make something like this very useful - especially since we need alternatives to satellites b/c now the Chinese have fielded ASAT weapons.

And, lets not forget, the A-10 is one ugly airplane (which is why the fighter mafia hates it), despite being one of the most brutally effective warplanes ever conceived (IMHO).


Hickelbilly March 15, 2012 at 11:52 am

Don't judge a book by it's cover alone.


FURF1387 March 15, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Y'all don't like the looks of the tadpole?
Be Patient: Frog's coming.


DD Huch March 19, 2012 at 7:40 pm


Anyways, I hope this thing can really fly!!!!!!


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BLWarmonger March 13, 2012 at 1:58 pm

No problem.


Thomas L. Nielsen March 14, 2012 at 5:34 am

"…those damned NAZI's had figured out how to run subs on H2O2"
H2O2, or hydrogen peroxide, was used in experimental submarines, but as an oxidizer or a monopropellant (it catalyses into oxygen and hot steam). Both Nazi Germany and the UK experimented with this technology. It's extremely reactive, though, which is why it was unpopular in submarines (the UK HMS Explorer was known as the "HMS Exploder"). The advent of compact nuclear reactors pretty much killed the technology for sub use, but it's used these days in torpedo and rocket engines.

"I am actually surprised we are still shipping flammable liquids across the world to refuel our jets".
If you're concerned with the fire hazard, I would NOT recommend using hydrogen as a replacement.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen


Thomas L. Nielsen March 14, 2012 at 5:50 am

PS: I do agree that, if hydrogen could be manufactured on site (ship, base, etc.) it might give some safety advantages. I'm not 100% convinced though, since you would still need to store the stuff, at least temporarily (buffer storage). Pending developments in high-density, low-pressure "bonding" of hydrogen that means either pressurized or cryogenic, which brings with it its own problems.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen


notasblindasyou March 14, 2012 at 12:46 pm

While you are right, you original argument is highly flawed and extremely out dated. It was in fact the argument for Electric and Steam powered vehicles before gasoline caught on….. didn't work then, wont work now.


Thomas L. Nielsen March 14, 2012 at 12:55 pm

"While you are right, you original argument is highly flawed and extremely out dated"

Just for clarification, and since I double-posted, could you point out the "original argument" you refer to?

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen


blight_ March 14, 2012 at 3:38 pm

What's the flaw? You're trading the risk of storing hydrogen gas with the bulk and weight of in-situ hydrogen generators, plus the storage capacity to store it for short term use.

You need storage tanks, unless you plan to put these generators directly into aircraft and systems, which then introduces bulk…


Riceball March 15, 2012 at 1:39 pm

You could be right, it's been a while since i saw that episode. The hydrogen was probably responsible for the initial fire and the skin coating made matters worse.


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