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Boeing Gets $89M To Build Drone That Can Fly For 5 Years Straight

Soulskill posted about 4 years ago | from the home-in-the-clouds dept.

Transportation 271

coondoggie writes "One of the more unique unmanned aircraft concepts took a giant step toward reality this week when the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency inked an agreement with Boeing to build the SolarEagle, a plane capable of remaining at heights above 60,000ft for over five years. Boeing says the first SolarEagle under the $89 million contract could fly as early as 2014."

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5 Years? (1)

oldspewey (1303305) | about 4 years ago | (#33614018)

I hope David Bowie is writing the mission soundtrack.

Re:5 Years? (3, Funny)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 4 years ago | (#33614046)

I think Alan Parson's "Eye In The Sky" would be more appropriate...

Re:5 Years? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33614500)

Judas Priest - Electric Eye ....would be awesomer.

Re:5 Years? (1)

geekprime (969454) | about 4 years ago | (#33614698)

Can you say wifi access point in the sky?

Skyhook (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33614034)

Should have named it Skyhook.

Should have named it Kee-zos-en. (1)

MRe_nl (306212) | about 4 years ago | (#33614268)

The solar eagle, whose wings open to create the day, and close to cause the night-time.

SEE! (2, Funny)

blhack (921171) | about 4 years ago | (#33614036)

Isn't it frustrating that the military never encourages the development of new technology?

I cannot think of a single civilian use for something like this, and definitely not a use for any of the derivative technologies. /sarcasm...because, well, nerdgasm

Re:SEE! (1)

Tragek (772040) | about 4 years ago | (#33614148)

Haha. Indeed. Almost certainly significantly cheaper than your average satellite, while giving a flexibility not available in satellites.

Out of curiosity, is 60,000 feet high enough to avoid commercial airliner traffic? IE, would these things need to hook into Air Traffic Control?

Re:SEE! (1)

localman57 (1340533) | about 4 years ago | (#33614184)

At 60,000 feet, i don't think it makes any difference. The odds of a collision are so slim as to be negligible. When you see planes colide it's almost exclusively at low altitude in congested areas (e.g. airports or tourist sight-seeing).

Re:SEE! (1)

hedwards (940851) | about 4 years ago | (#33614406)

Indeed, IIRC, when planes are at cruising altitude they are segregated by direction so that they aren't likely to hit each other even without a lot of gizmos. It isn't until you get to lower altitudes near airports or in unregulated airspace that such accidents become much more frequent.

Re:SEE! (5, Informative)

oldspewey (1303305) | about 4 years ago | (#33614272)

Most commercial air traffic flies between 29,000ft - 39,000ft. I think there are one or two private jets that are certified to fly as high as 52,000ft. At 60,000ft it's just military traffic.

Re:SEE! (0)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 4 years ago | (#33614434)

Transatlantic flights are normally around 40k-45k feet.

Re:SEE! (1)

oldspewey (1303305) | about 4 years ago | (#33614606)

Interesting ... I've never been on a flight (during which the pilot announced the cruising altitude or I had access to flight data via seatback entertainment system) higher than 37K, and I've been on various transcontinental flights, transatlantic flights, and transpacific flights.

Re:SEE! (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 4 years ago | (#33614290)

Out of curiosity, is 60,000 feet high enough to avoid commercial airliner traffic? IE, would these things need to hook into Air Traffic Control?

Commercial jetliners are certified to around 45,000 ft and some of the business class jets can go a bit over 50,000 ft.

Either way, 60,000 feet is high enough that the only things you have to worry about are military aircraft and stray weather balloons, because 60,000 feet is where Class A airspace tops out.

Re:SEE! (1)

vought (160908) | about 4 years ago | (#33614520)

Several answers and none is quite right.

Commercial and civilian jets all have certified ceilings that vary depending on the weight, balance, of the aircraft and length of the cruise, headwinds, weather, etc.

Most comercial jetliners can cruise at 36-40,000 feet. The Concorde cruised higher, at around 60-62,000 feet.

Additionally, commercial jets usually stick to well-known routes directed by ATC. Spacing for height and distance is variable.

Re:SEE! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33614298)

It is since we don't have Concorde anymore.

Re:SEE! (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | about 4 years ago | (#33614458)

I'd like Boeing to design a solar-powered car like this. Even if it only goes 25mph, being able to go to work without burning money... oops I mean gasoline would be great.

Re:SEE! (1)

AllergicToMilk (653529) | about 4 years ago | (#33614596)

Commercial traffic is usually around 30,000 - 35,000 feet.

Re:SEE! (4, Informative)

magarity (164372) | about 4 years ago | (#33614654)

is 60,000 feet high enough to avoid commercial airliner traffic?
 
60k and above is what is called class E airspace and the rules are very simple for class E: It's up to you not to run into anyone else. Except for the occasional SR71 and U2, nothing regularly flies at this altitude (some fighter aircraft can go this high if they have to but they don't just cruise around for the heck of it): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airspace_class_(United_States)#Class_E [wikipedia.org]
 
PS - most commercial airliners aren't rated for even 40K, nevermind 60. At 60, you can see the curvature of the earth out the window so it would be really cool to actually get to take a flight that could handle it.

Re:SEE! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33614168)

It actually doesn't. This is one example where it fails too...

    1. First solar-plane concept was demonstrated by NASA *years ago*, for example as a vehicle for a mars probe.
    2. DARPA takes it and "invents" its own version
    3. Slashdot people post how great military spending is.

So what is this for? Espionage and recon. Civilian use? Surveillance society. Nothing really beyond that.

And no, there is no derivative use of any of the technologies. Why? Because it is not new technology. It's already *here*.

Re:SEE! (4, Interesting)

blhack (921171) | about 4 years ago | (#33614316)

It's already *here*.

That is absolutely fantastic news. Could you point me at a place where I could buy one?

The reality is that the derivative technologies are not always things like "we need to invent a solar panel", they're not even "we need to invent light composites", they're "we need to figure out a way of quickly producing these exotic materials on a large enough skill to fill the demand that the military is going to have for these.".

Re:SEE! (1)

hedwards (940851) | about 4 years ago | (#33614428)

Well, what other aircraft can stay aloft for that long without being in orbit? That's the important bit, well that and it being somewhat mass produced.

Re:SEE! (0, Offtopic)

radtea (464814) | about 4 years ago | (#33614324)

Isn't it frustrating that the military never encourages the development of new technology?

Isn't it sad that new tech that might as easily be developed for peaceful uses only gets funded by idiots who think that killing people is the first, best solution to any problem instead of what it transparently is: the worst one?

Why not fund these things through a civilian agency like NASA? Why does killing people, which is known to be the most awesomely inefficient, ineffective means of solving problems, get almost all the cash?

Note to the logically disabled: I have not said "violence never solves anything", I've said that it demonstrably is an inefficient, ineffective means of solution to virtually all problems of large-scale conflicts.

Ask any economist if war is ever rational, and they will almost certainly tell you it isn't. There are always ways that all parties can resolve their legitmate conflicts to the greater benefit of everyone.

So thumping your chest and triumphally telling me that "war ended evil XYZ!" is not an argument. To make an argument you have to present the case that there was no other way evil XYZ could have been ended, or that the alternatives would have done more harm than war. With regard to WWII, for example, it is not clear to me that a few decades of containment of the kind used against the USSR wouldn't have solved the problem with far less loss of life and property than war produced.

You are free to disagree: I can certainly see the point is arguable. But simply stating, "We did this with war therefore this could only be done with war" is not an argument, any more than saying "I drive screws with a hammer therefore a hammer is the only way to drive screws" is an argument.

Now let the mod-war begin! (My anti-violence posts seem to wander all over the place, typcially resulting in "-1, Insightful" outcomes, which amuses me no end, knowing I'm offending the losers.)

Re:SEE! (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33614498)

Isn't it sad that new tech that might as easily be developed for peaceful uses only gets funded by idiots who think that killing people is the first, best solution to any problem instead of what it transparently is: the worst one?

I don't endorse needless wars, and you will find that your statement does not characterize the military. The fact of the matter is that history has shown that humans resort to violence and oppression. If you are too pusillanimous to face that fact you are doomed to a life of servitude. How do you think American independence was won? What would you have done against Hitler's rise? Written him a sternly-worded letter?

We live in a finite planet with very limited resources. When the time comes, how do you propose we secure our freedom (or the remnants of it) and our very survival?

Your sentiments are too idealistic and in the long run will result in your destruction. The world isn't run by pacifists like you. When push comes to shove, there will be war.

I'm not a warmonger, but I'm not so naive as to think that my security can be ensured through diatribe alone. Military might is but one facet of our defenses.

Re:SEE! (1)

MarkGriz (520778) | about 4 years ago | (#33614444)

Isn't it frustrating that the military never encourages the development of new technology?

Joke's on DARPA though..... Boeing is gonna spend that $89 mil on hookers & blow, since they know the world ends 2 years before they have to deliver it.

more unique (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33614042)

Something can't be "more unique." It's unique, or it's not.

Re:more unique (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33614154)

—Usage note
Many authors of usage guides, editors, teachers, and others feel strongly that such “absolute” words as complete, equal, perfect, and especially unique cannot be compared because of their “meaning”: a word that denotes an absolute condition cannot be described as denoting more or less than that absolute condition. However, all such words have undergone semantic development and are used in a number of senses, some of which can be compared by words like more, very, most, absolutely, somewhat, and totally and some of which cannot.
The earliest meanings of unique when it entered English around the beginning of the 17th century were “single, sole” and “having no equal.” By the mid-19th century unique had developed a wider meaning, “not typical, unusual,” and it is in this wider sense that it is compared: The foliage on the late-blooming plants is more unique than that on the earlier varieties. The comparison of so-called absolutes in senses that are not absolute is standard in all varieties of speech and writing.
See also a1, complete, perfect.

Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2010.

Summary Fail (5, Insightful)

tirefire (724526) | about 4 years ago | (#33614054)

"More unique"? You can't qualify "unique", it's like saying "more dead" or "more binary".

Hey, where's everybody going?

But There is Mostly Dead (2, Interesting)

twmcneil (942300) | about 4 years ago | (#33614464)

MIRACLE MAX:It just so happens that your friend is MOSTLY dead. There's a big difference between MOSTLY dead and ALL dead. You see, mostly dead is still slightly alive. And there's only one thing you can do with mostly dead.
INIGO: what's that?
MIRACLE MAX: search through his pockets for loose change

Re:Summary Fail (2, Funny)

Darinbob (1142669) | about 4 years ago | (#33614638)

This concept is slightly pregnant with potential.

At least 60,000 feet up for five years? (2, Funny)

pushing-robot (1037830) | about 4 years ago | (#33614058)

Take $89 million...buy a Falcon 9 launch...pocket the difference.

Think of the Planet! (1)

Roger W Moore (538166) | about 4 years ago | (#33614422)

Take $89 million...buy a Falcon 9 launch...pocket the difference.

...and get mugged by environmentalists!

Satellite replacement? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33614076)

So could this function as a more temporary satellite? Just fly it high and keep it over a certain area and it could perform some of the functions I imagine. Be easier to service/replace too. It would also cut down on all the crap in our orbitals, which is a plus.

Re:Satellite replacement? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33614104)

I think it still has to move.

Re:Satellite replacement? (3, Funny)

oldspewey (1303305) | about 4 years ago | (#33614114)

On the downside it's well within SAM range, though I imagine it has a pretty small thermal signature so that might present a more difficult target.

Re:Satellite replacement? (1)

sunking2 (521698) | about 4 years ago | (#33614452)

Anything going that high is guided by ground radar. And I'd imagine this thing probably has a huge radar signature.

Re:Satellite replacement? (1)

hedwards (940851) | about 4 years ago | (#33614476)

It's going to have a thermal signature that is just about zero. It's getting its energy from the sun, which means that it's probably a bit hotter during the day, and probably noticeably so during the night, but still probably a challenge to target.

Re:Satellite replacement? (3, Insightful)

jandrese (485) | about 4 years ago | (#33614126)

The big advantage is that it can loiter over a particular area for a long time. This is wonderful for something like relaying radio traffic. The problem with satellites is that they're either overhead for only a few minutes at a time, or they're so far away you need a 3 meter dish to communicate through it (not to mention the speed of light starts to become noticeable). It should also be suburb for surveillance work for the same reason: You can have one hang out over a target area for as long as you like, unlike a satellite where you are a slave to orbital mechanics.

The downside is that a slow moving drone, even at very high altitude like that, is pretty easy to shoot down.

Re:Satellite replacement? (3, Insightful)

localman57 (1340533) | about 4 years ago | (#33614202)

Whether or not that's a downside has a great deal to do with your point of view...

Re:Satellite replacement? (1)

Lanforod (1344011) | about 4 years ago | (#33614372)

If that were such a downside, how come AWACs planes don't get shot down? 3 of those have crashed, none have been shot down. I could see these replacing the AWACs if they were large enough to pack a lot of technical equipment in.

Re:Satellite replacement? (2, Interesting)

mlts (1038732) | about 4 years ago | (#33614376)

I can see these put into use for keeping communications operational, should the Kessler Syndrome come into play making LEO impassible (courtesy nations like China showing off their target practice skills and the resulting space debris).

Another use would be bandwidth for populated areas, so traffic wouldn't have to be bounced off a satellite just for region to region traffic.

Re:Satellite replacement? (2, Insightful)

mysidia (191772) | about 4 years ago | (#33614382)

The downside is that a slow moving drone, even at very high altitude like that, is pretty easy to shoot down.

Only if you are looking for it, and you have suitable instruments to detect its position, and something to shoot that can actually go that far up.

Re:Satellite replacement? (1)

thrillseeker (518224) | about 4 years ago | (#33614526)

The downside is that a slow moving drone, even at very high altitude like that, is pretty easy to shoot down.

Not really that easy. One advantage of being that high is that a surface-to-air missile will have expended much of its energy by the time it gets to you - it takes a smaller adjustment on your part to be outside the kill radius. If any of the modern approaches to stealth are incorporated it could be quite difficult to acquire and maintain track on a high altitude target.

batteries... (5, Interesting)

martas (1439879) | about 4 years ago | (#33614094)

i suppose one of the biggest challenges will be developing [lightweight] batteries that can function for 5 years while being dis/recharged every day... i.e. 1800 times. could be tough.

Re:batteries... (1)

oldspewey (1303305) | about 4 years ago | (#33614124)

Hell, give me $89 million and I'll take a crack at figuring the battery problem out.

Re:batteries... (4, Insightful)

vbraga (228124) | about 4 years ago | (#33614310)

Just remember satellites already goes through this kind of cycle everyday.

Re:batteries... (1)

pushing-robot (1037830) | about 4 years ago | (#33614334)

So they can keep working after the sun sets?

Re:batteries... (2, Insightful)

CraftyJack (1031736) | about 4 years ago | (#33614492)

So they can keep working after the sun sets?

Yep. Or the Earth gets in the way, however you prefer to think of it.

Re:batteries... (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | about 4 years ago | (#33614586)

It may surprise you to realize that sometimes people need satellites to operate on the 'night' side of the terminator. The planet has kind of a big shadow.

Re:batteries... (2, Interesting)

martas (1439879) | about 4 years ago | (#33614440)

uhhh, well, sort of... but: depending on their orbit, "night" can be much more rare/less long than for a plane; due to lack of atmosphere, they get a lot more energy from the sun per sq inch of solar cell than a plane; and last but by far not least, they don't have to fly. mechanical motion is extremely rare for your average satellite. i'd think that changes the problem quite a bit.

Re:batteries... (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 4 years ago | (#33614480)

LiFePo, can I have the money now?

Normally rated for 2,000+ cycles and 5 years sounds pretty reasonable.

Way too much (5, Funny)

BufferArea (794172) | about 4 years ago | (#33614118)

Boeing Gets $89M To Build Drone That Can Fly For 5 Years Straight...for that much you think it could turn too!

Re:Way too much (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33614338)

My brother-in-law, Frank, can drone for 5 straight years, and at the much lower cost of two PBRs per hour.

Re:Way too much (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33614386)

It is a "don't ask don't tell" thing. The airplane has to be straight for 5 years or the term of its enlistment.

2014? (2, Insightful)

Stargoat (658863) | about 4 years ago | (#33614122)

Four years development. Is this an alternate universe Boeing? Perhaps it is a Boeing from the past, when they could actually build airplanes that might approach a reasonable construction time.

Further, the Solar Eagle is going to use propellers? I thought the big advantage of jet engines was less maintenance time. How is this going to fly with mechanical and exposed propellers for 5 years at a time?

Re:2014? (5, Funny)

oldspewey (1303305) | about 4 years ago | (#33614134)

I'm curious to hear more about your concept for a solar-powered jet engine.

Re:2014? (1)

Stargoat (658863) | about 4 years ago | (#33614174)

I have no concept for solar powered jet engines. And I'm not selling it for 89 million either.

Re:2014? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33614446)

obviously you don't understand sarcasm nor conservation of mass.

Re:2014? (3, Interesting)

radtea (464814) | about 4 years ago | (#33614436)

I'm curious to hear more about your concept for a solar-powered jet engine.

I don't see why a solar or electric Brayton-cycle heat engine shouldn't be possible. I'm actually curious that no one has done this for solar farms instead of Stirling-cycle engines. While the theoretical efficiency of the Stirling-cycle engine is ideal, the practical problems are large due the the number of moving parts and issues with heat transfer.

Brayton-cycle turbine engines inject the heat into the working fluid away from the moving parts, and one can imagine the air flowing through a heated mesh to perform the transfer. Not a winner for this applciation, where direct electric-drive propellers have compelling efficiency and possibly weight advantages, but for solar farms it might very well be competitive with Stirling engines.

Re:2014? (1)

Bo'Bob'O (95398) | about 4 years ago | (#33614710)

It already mentions that the plane runs on fuel cells, so I would imagine there is some sort of electrolysis going on so that it store it's energy as oxygen and hydrogen already.

Of course, it wouldn't be anything near the kind of efficiency.

Re:2014? (1, Informative)

gman003 (1693318) | about 4 years ago | (#33614232)

You can't run a jet engine on solar power. And AFAIK, propellers are actually easier to maintain than jets, since they have much simpler parts. The main advantages to jets are ability to burn fuel at higher altitude and ability to attain higher speeds.

Re:2014? (1)

thrillseeker (518224) | about 4 years ago | (#33614578)

There's a study out there of using a hydrogen powered fuel cell to drive an electric motor attached to a high bypass jet engine - from memory 80% of the power of a high bypass engine come from the air flow vice the exhaust - recent advances have probably improved that.

Re:2014? (1)

Haffner (1349071) | about 4 years ago | (#33614394)

According to military contractor friends, basically, they inflate the bid, then they use that money on another project that is waaaay overbudget, and when the deadline comes around for the project they got funding for, they say "we need more funding" and get it. Repeat ad infinitum.

Re:2014? (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | about 4 years ago | (#33614420)

While I'm sure there will be no shortage of design challenges, there is a fair amount of precedent to work from in terms of the Pathfinder and Helios prototypes. It's also important to note that the design of a UAV can be an order of magnitude less rigorous than that of a piloted aircraft because you don't have to pressurize it or design a flight deck or account for human survivability etc.

Re:2014? (2, Informative)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 4 years ago | (#33614494)

The maintenance issue is with internal combustion engines, these props will be spun by an electric motor.

Re:2014? (1)

hedwards (940851) | about 4 years ago | (#33614504)

They can still do it, they just screwed up in assuming that such a plane could be build with parts from around the world. Some companies just don't know how to deal with multinational production.

Re:2014? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33614510)

Further, the Solar Eagle is going to use propellers? I thought the big advantage of jet engines was less maintenance time. How is this going to fly with mechanical and exposed propellers for 5 years at a time?

The main advantages of different engines lies in their operational regimes. This aircraft requires relatively little thrust due to high aspect ratio and L/D and low speed requirements. A jet engine requires a lot of fuel and operates most efficiently approaching M=2 IIRC. Electric motor driven props are appropriate for low speed and fuel requirements (~5 years worth).

For what it's worth, I'm an aerospace engineering student.

Re:2014? (1)

Phoenix Dreamscape (205064) | about 4 years ago | (#33614536)

Four years development. Is this an alternate universe Boeing? Perhaps it is a Boeing from the past, when they could actually build airplanes that might approach a reasonable construction time.

Yeah, it's safe to ignore both time and money estimates from government contractors until it has blown both its time and budget constraints a few times. The first bid is always impossible and full of half-truths and omissions to win the contract. The politics are stupid, but at least sometimes it results in good research.

Now, "Google Maps Live!" (5, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | about 4 years ago | (#33614138)

Wait until Google gets these. Google Maps could be updated in real time.

Re:Now, "Google Maps Live!" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33614246)

Exactly what I was thinking. "Live traffic cam". You could see where the backup is at and decide which side street to skip over to.
With the right post-processing Google could even get a rough "flow rate" of major roads w/o DOT putting wire loops in the ground.
(Not sure it would be worth the cost .. possibly it would allow them to also get the new 45degree satellite in more places.

Re:Now, "Google Maps Live!" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33614674)

Wait until Google gets these. Google Maps could be updated in real time.

The U.S. Air Force has that functionality already. It is one of the primary functions of the worldwide aerosol spraying (chemtrails) they do.

400 foot wingspan, no unimproved airfields (2, Informative)

Tekfactory (937086) | about 4 years ago | (#33614158)

Where the hell are you going to launch it from?

I mean seriously maybe they'll launch it from the US during the airwar and it'll finally get to the combat theater by time we've achieved air superiority.

I'd probably designed like a glider and to loiter for a long time by definition, would it just be easier to tow this thing like a glider to the theater of operations?

I really like the concept and all the Weather satellite type work, and cellular nodes or broadband that could use this kind of platform. Unlike the Solar powered plane that flew recently this thing will actually have a payload and energy budget that includes the cameras and comms gear.

Re:400 foot wingspan, no unimproved airfields (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33614294)

Put it in the air and circle international waters if you *think* something will happen in an area, send it closer until it's "ok" to enter airspace. 5 Years is a long time.

Re:400 foot wingspan, no unimproved airfields (2, Interesting)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | about 4 years ago | (#33614348)

Where the hell are you going to launch it from?

Do you realize how many airstrips worldwide are operated by the US? I'm sure they would have no problem launching from Diego Garcia, that was a fine place from where to launch B-52s, KC-135s, and B-2s for their missions to Iraq.

Re:400 foot wingspan, no unimproved airfields (1)

Haffner (1349071) | about 4 years ago | (#33614408)

Everyone talks about America's unquestioned air superiority. I don't doubt it would be an easy win in terms of military power, but what happens if we went up against a force that could hack our planes out of the sky? Seriously, how likely is that? I don't have a good handle on that.

Re:400 foot wingspan, no unimproved airfields (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 4 years ago | (#33614718)

Military hardware is not civilian hardware. Just to get a data link into a modern plane you would need to crack the encryption, crack the radio network to allow you in, and even then you'd still have to crack the actual systems on the plane itself. Now if you meant jamming, that is somewhat easier, but I can assure you that the military radios have ways to prevent that as well.

Re:400 foot wingspan, no unimproved airfields (1)

kestasjk (933987) | about 4 years ago | (#33614438)

I don't think the ease of takeoff a landing are a top priority for a plane which lands once every 5 years..

Re:400 foot wingspan, no unimproved airfields (1)

mysidia (191772) | about 4 years ago | (#33614474)

Launch it from flight? Mount it to the back of a plane, with wings stowed, take off with it.

At 10000 feet, someone climbs up to it, mounts the 200ft wings on, undocks it, gets back in their plane, and flies back to the ground, while the 400ft beast is powering up and launching its automated flight programs.

Re:400 foot wingspan, no unimproved airfields (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 4 years ago | (#33614692)

Even assuming an absolute worst case scenario, a single usable takeoff point in the entire world, conflict on the other side of the planet, and a cruise speed of 50 mph it would take a whopping 10 days to reach it's destination. And if they can really stay up for 5 years straight, you could have a fleet of them spread around the world ready to be deployed to nearby conflict zones.

Helios, Pathfinder, Paul MacCready, etc... (2, Informative)

captrb (1298149) | about 4 years ago | (#33614178)

Been reading about these ideas since I was in diapers. Okay, I was in diapers drinking beer, but still. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helios_Prototype [wikipedia.org]

Re:Helios, Pathfinder, Paul MacCready, etc... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33614352)

I was in diapers drinking beer

That was one legendary party Jethro threw, wasn't it?

Weather Balloon? (1)

Yossarian45793 (617611) | about 4 years ago | (#33614274)

Don't weather balloons already meet this criteria? They can reach 60000 ft and stay there for extended periods (not sure about 5 years). How much do you want to bet that Boeing is just going to build a $89 million balloon with a solar panel on it?

Re:Weather Balloon? (1)

oldspewey (1303305) | about 4 years ago | (#33614378)

Weather balloons last for days/weeks at best, not years. Weather balloons also can't loiter over a specific area - they are at the mercy of the prevailing winds.

Re:Weather Balloon? (1)

hedwards (940851) | about 4 years ago | (#33614528)

Weather balloons can't be steered, and they aren't going to stay up there for extended periods of time without being refueled. With the added downside of them stirring up UFO paranoia. We're still dealing with the backlash from the spy balloons of the 40s and 50s.

2014? 5 years? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33614302)

That doesn't give them enough time to test it.

Oh great... (1)

CCarrot (1562079) | about 4 years ago | (#33614416)

...flight connections are going to be even more of a hassle than they are now!

< /sarcasm>

TACO (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33614418)

formed his own rece&nt article put And has instead too, can be a

$89M (-1, Troll)

Infonaut (96956) | about 4 years ago | (#33614482)

I'm expecting a big hue and cry from the small government, fiscally conservative, ideologically-pure Tea Party folks.

Oh, wait, this is a military expenditure. Never mind.

But why? (0, Troll)

ArcadeNut (85398) | about 4 years ago | (#33614486)

What possible mission would you need to fly for 5 YEARS straight? Seems to me someone got the Govt to approve another "Pork" project.

I bet universities could do this cheaper (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about 4 years ago | (#33614508)

Give 20 of the best $1 million grants, and I bet you'd have a workable design faster and cheaper

why don't they... (1)

alta (1263) | about 4 years ago | (#33614570)

just push it up a little higher and let it fly even longer...

And we'll call that flight path "orbit"

And instead of drone, we'll call it a satellite.

And we'll let it fly for 20 years!

I'll take my 89 mil in large bills thank you.

Opportunity Response (1)

Bob9113 (14996) | about 4 years ago | (#33614588)

Opportunity sent a message to NASA saying, "Oh yeah, baby, that's the stuff. I want to meet this new bird. Talk me up to her, guys, OK? Tell her I've been doing the same thing, but on another planet. Don't mention the wheels. Say, by the way, you said 90 days, umm, can I come home now?"

oblig: http://xkcd.com/695/ [xkcd.com]

Except For: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33614592)

skeet shooting [youtube.com] .

Your FEDERAL tax dollars at work.

Cheers.

Five years straight? (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about 4 years ago | (#33614600)

I'm not sure I see the goal/benefit for this metric.
How about 5 planes each flying 1 year straight?
Wouldn't that be easier, cheaper, more flexible and dynamic?

Why 5 years? (1)

FalcDot (1224920) | about 4 years ago | (#33614610)

Maybe it's just the fact that English isn't my native tongue, but... Is this 5 year thing a requirement for the project? Or is it just that Boeing estimates such a plane could conceivably fly for 5 years?

Because I just can't imagine any sort of scenario where something like this absolutely has to stay in the air for 5 straight years and could not be replaced by 2 or 3 of these things doing one-year rotations.

What, no successful test run? (1)

brundlefly (189430) | about 4 years ago | (#33614624)

If development is complete 4 years from now, how can they have finished even a single test flight where it worked as advertised?

Straight? (1)

ultramarweeni (662813) | about 4 years ago | (#33614630)

What if turns out that the drone is making some certain wrist gestures and painting itself in pink/violet/rainbow colours before it reaches five years "straight" flight?

Perhaps this could also be used to orbit mars? (1)

joshier (957448) | about 4 years ago | (#33614668)

I don't have much knowledge in this area but it sounds do-able..

5 Years? (1)

virtualonliner (1278494) | about 4 years ago | (#33614694)

I am going out on a limb and say that it is not running on Windows!
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