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Boeing's Chubby Hydrogen-Powered UAV Makes Its First Flight

Boeing's Phantom Eye unmanned surveillance aircraft takes off for the first time

2 min read
Boeing's Chubby Hydrogen-Powered UAV Makes Its First Flight

Most unmanned aerial vehicles are sleek, streamlined affairs that look like they belong in a science fiction movie. Not so with Boeing's Phantom Eye UAV: it's got long skinny wings sticking out of a body shaped like a chronically overfed gerbil. This is because it's stuffed full of hydrogen, allowing it to stay airborne for days at a time.

Phantom Eye is not a small aircraft: it's got a wingspan of 45 meters, and that gigantic belly it's got going on holds two about-half-as-gigantic tanks of hydrogen. With 200 kilograms of payload, Phantom Eye relies on all of this hydrogen to keep its engines and electronics running for days. Four days, that is, non-stop without having to land. Phantom Eye cruises up at 65,000 feet (about 20,000 meters), which is well above weather and  any other aircraft, and Boeing plans to deploy it as a long-duration surveillance platform.

Here's a video of the test flight: to save weight, Phantom Eye lands on skids, so to take off, it's got a little trolley-thing that it sits on top of until it gets airborne:

Now isn't that the most adorable unmanned aerial vehicle take-off that you've ever seen? I just want to give this thing a great big hug, with it's big chubby belly and little tiny trolley. Aww!

This first test flight lasted only 28 minutes, with Phantom Eye reaching about 4,000 feet at a speed of 150 knots, all autonomously. If the test program works out, Boeing plans an even larger production version of the aircraft that'll be able to carry four times as much payload and stay aloft for ten days, meaning that just a few of them could team up to provide constant surveillance anywhere in the world for literally years at a time.

[ Boeing ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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