It’s been a month of reminders that actually, yes, the US government has a lot of giant, high-tech toys that it’s not telling us about. Two weeks ago, it was, “Wait, we have a secret Hubble-sized space telescope? Wait, we have TWO of them?”
This week (especially if you missed the first one’s flight in 2010), it’s, “Wait, we have a secret space plane? Wait…TWO of them?!”
Matternet’s design for a Medical Aid Quadcopter
What’s the News: Many of the unmanned aerial vehicles we hear about are flying off to war, laden with weapons or surveillance equipment. The tech start-up Matternet, however, is designing small quadcopter UAVs to carry peaceable payloads, delivering medical supplies and other necessities to areas dangerous or difficult to reach by road.
Unmanned aerial vehicles beware: We’ve got laser weapons.
This week defense contractor Raytheon debuted video of a test conducted with the U.S. Navy in California this May, in which the company’s laser weapon shot down four UAVs. The shaky black-and-white footage shows lasers locked on an aircraft until it loses control and plunges into the sea.
The Navy’s laser depends upon a guidance system it already uses on its ships—Raytheon’s Phalanx Close-In Weapon System, which normally uses radar to guide a 20mm Gatling gun.
Raytheon developed the system after buying six off-the-shelf commercial lasers from the car industry and joining them to make a single, powerful beam guided by the Phalanx’s radars. Unlike other tests which have been conducted on aircraft it uses a solid state laser rather than a chemical generated beam [The Telegraph].
The next generation of spies from on high continue to emerge, with two secretive unmanned planes making their public debuts this week.
Boeing Phantom Eye
The Phantom Eye, which Boeing unveiled this week, will take to the skies next year on the power of hydrogen. The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) should be able to cruise at an altitude of 65,000 feet.
But the propeller-driven Phantom Eye is no muscle plane. It’ll have a pair of 150-horsepower, 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engines. Boeing says the UAV, with a 150-foot wingspan, will be able to cruise at about 150 knots [172 miles per hour] and carry a payload of up to 450 pounds [CNET].
The plane won’t need to carry much weight, though, because it’s intend to spy, not attack. Boeing says the Phantom Eye will be able to stay aloft for four consecutive days, executing “persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.” Its size and breezy pace mean it’s built for endurance and not stealth. But that might not be true for Boeing’s other UAV project, the menacing Phantom Ray that will make a test flight in December.