Boeing's Giant Flying Tadpole Makes First Taxi Runs

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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