Solar-powered drone would perform high-altitude missions

Solar Eagle designed for persistent surveillance from 60,000 feet and above

Boeing will develop and test a high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicle fueled by solar and electric power for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as part of Phase 2 of the Vulture demonstration program, company officials said.

Under an $89 million contract, Boeing will develop a full-scale flight demonstrator of the Solar Eagle UAV and flight-ready technologies for its power system and structure, company officials said this month.

Solar Eagle is designed to perform communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions from more than 11 miles in the atmosphere. The first demonstration flight is scheduled for 2014.

The Solar Eagle demonstrator, which will be powered by electric motors and propellers, will remain in the atmosphere for 30 days as part of its testing requirements. The UAV is designed to collect solar energy during the day through its 400-foot wingspan to store in fuel cells, which in turn provide power to keep the vehicle operating through the night.

DARPA selected Boeing’s design for Phase 2 over one submitted that Lockheed Martin submitted, Aviation Week reports. A submission by Aurora Flight Sciences was eliminated during an earlier stage.

Versa Power Systems, a maker of fuel cell systems, and QinetiQ North America, a provider of systems engineering services, are key suppliers for the program, Boeing officials said.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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