Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Boeing Solar Eagle wins $89m from DARPA

Boeing Solar Eagle

Boeing has announced that it has won funding to the tune of $89 million from DARPA to develop its Solar Eagle UAV.

Solar power is a hot topic, no pun intended.  QinetiQs Zephyr flew for 14 days and 22 hours earlier this year. Sources have told us that it could have gone much longer.

Boeing was chosen over an offering from Lockeed Martin skunk works.

The Boeing Solar Eagle  will have highly efficient electric motors and propellers and a high-aspect-ratio, 400-foot wing.

Under the DARPA Vulture II agreement, Boeing’s Phantom Works division will develop a flight demonstrator, including  the critical power system and structures technologies developed by  QinetiQ.

Quite why it needs to be able to lift 1000lbs with a payload of 5KW is not yet revealed. Testing of the sensor and camera systems could start tomorrow. Making sensors that could operate for five years in a cold and harsh environment will be quite a task in itself.

As they plan to fly a near full scale demonstrator for a month as early as 2014 they have not quite left themselves enough time to find out! Set your alarm clocks for at least 2018 for the real deal. Perhaps the Zephyr will be used to test sub systems in the meantime.

Currently the only systems capable of providing multiple years of coverage over a fixed area are geosynchronous satellites orbiting 22,233 miles above Earth. Pat O’Neil,

QinetiQ Solar Eagle test vehicle at Farnborough 2010

program manager, Boeing High Altitude Long Endurance Systems said: “Such a ‘pseudo-satellite’ system, like Vulture, could provide compelling operational advantages in terms of persistent intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and communications.”

“our Vulture program will develop an aircraft capable of remaining on-station for over five years, pushing technology and design so that the system will not require

refueling or maintenance.” Said Dr. Tony Tether, Director Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. A single Vulture aircraft could support traditional intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance functions over country-sized areas – while at the same time providing an unblinking eye over a critical target, monitoring that target night and day, providing unprecedented high-value intelligence. “Vulture aircraft will also be able to provide communications capabilities available today only from geostationary satellites – offering opportunities for new, more flexible, expandable and relocatable communication architectures at a fraction of the cost of dedicated satellite capabilities” Said Dr. Tether. The challenges here include developing solar cell, energy storage, and reliability technologies that will allow the aircraft to operate continuously, unrefueled for over 44,000 hours.

Update 16 Dec

The FAI have ratified the QinetiQ Zephyr flight records.


Gary Mortimer
Gary Mortimer
Founder and Editor of sUAS News | Gary Mortimer has been a commercial balloon pilot for 25 years and also flies full-size helicopters. Prior to that, he made tea and coffee in air traffic control towers across the UK as a member of the Royal Air Force.