Unmanned spy planes that are faster, stealthier and higher-flying

The massive Global Observer built by AeroVironment Inc. of Monrovia is capable of flying for days at a stratosphere-skimming 65,000 feet, out of range of most antiaircraft missiles. The plane is built to survey 280,000 square miles — an area larger than Afghanistan — at a single glance. That would give the Pentagon an “unblinking eye” over the war zone and offer a cheaper and more effective alternative to spy satellites watching from outer space.

The estimated $30-million robotic aircraft is one of three revolutionary drones being tested in coming weeks at Edwards Air Force Base.

Global Observer Unmanned Spyplane specs

Extreme Endurance: 5 to 7 days
High Operating Altitude: 55,000 to 65,000 feet
Footprint Coverage: Approximately 600 miles in diameter
Payload: Up to 400 lbs.
Efficient Propulsion System: Liquid-hydrogen-powered for greater endurance. The aircraft does not produce carbon emissions.

Bat-winged X-47B drone built by Northrop Grumman Corp

The Northrop X-47B would carry laser-guided bombs and be launched from an aircraft carrier. It would carry 4500 lbs of weapons and fly at up to 40,000 feet. The Navy’s goal is for a strike fighter-sized unmanned air vehicle demonstrate carrier-based launch and recovery in the 2013 timeframe. The X-47B will be a strike fighter-sized transformational, carrier-capable unmanned air vehicle with the potential to perform multiple roles including Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, and Time Sensitive Targeting/Strike.

The specs of the X47B do not seem to go much beyond the MQ-9 Reaper which was the follow on the Predator drones. The main thing is the X47B can fly off an aircraft carrier.

There is a proposed X-47C version with a payload of 10,000 lb (4,500 kg) and a wingspan of 172 ft (52.4 m).

F-18 fighter bombers can hold 13,700 lb (6,215 kg) of external fuel and ordnance.

The F-18E/F Super Hornet has a capacity of 17,750 lb (8,050 kg) external fuel and ordnance

Boeing Co.’s Phantom Ray drone

The Phantom Ray would slip behind enemy lines to knock out radar installations, clearing the way for fighters and bombers.

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