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PHANTOM WORKS SHOWS WHAT'S ON ITS DRAWING BOARD.

Byline: Jim Skeen Staff Writer

LONG BEACH - An airplane so huge it could carry more than twice the load of today's biggest plane, a military ``pickup'' able to take off straight up and a flying wing able to carry hundreds of passengers are among the concepts being pursued by the Boeing Co.'s Phantom Works.

Phantom Works, Boeing's advanced concepts research and development division which has projects in the Antelope Valley, recently offered a glimpse of some of its projects during a technology expo at its Long Beach plant.

One is the Pelican, an aircraft that would dwarf the world's largest aircraft, the Russian-built An-225. Phantom Works envisions the Pelican being able to carrying 2.8 million pounds of cargo - enough for 17 Army tanks - compared with the 550,000 pounds the An-225 can carry.

``It will provide an alternative to shipping across the ocean,'' said John Skorupa, Phantom Works senior manager of advanced airlift and tankers. ``It will be more efficient than other planes, but not as cheap as going by ship. The market niche would be cargo that can't wait to be shipped.''

The Pelican could meet an Army requirement for a transportation system capable of shipping a troop division anywhere in the world in five days.

``The Pelican is the only concept out there that can do that,'' Skorupa said.

The proposed 400-foot-long aircraft would fly low over the ocean, taking advantage of ``ground effect'' - a cushion of air that helps lift airplanes flying close to the earth. Over land, the aircraft would climb to 20,000 feet or higher.

For takeoffs and landings, the Pelican would fold its wings, reducing its 500-foot wingspan to 340 feet.

Boeing will be conducting studies over the next year to determine what kind of market there might be for such an aircraft.

Phantom Works is spread out over a variety of locations, including St. Louis, Philadelphia, Seattle, Mesa, Ariz., and Southern California.

Its California operations include the construction in Palmdale of an experimental aircraft intended to test technologies for a future spacecraft, and the flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base of two unmanned aircraft for an unmanned fighter program for the Air Force and Navy.

For Phantom Works, one of the most exciting concepts is a design concept called blended-wing body. Unlike the traditional ``tube and wing'' design where wings are attached to a fuselage, the blended-wing body merges the fuselage with the wing in a shape resembling a flying wing, like the B-2 stealth bomber.

The blended-wing design provides more lift, offering greater range and fuel economy than tube and wing designs.

``We see blended wing as the wave of the future,'' Skorupa said.

Boeing initially studied the design concept for a commercial passenger jetliner capable of holding 800 passengers. The blended-wing body concept, however, lends itself to military uses, such as a platform for troop transport, an airborne laser platform, and for airborne warning and control system, or AWACS, missions.

Boeing has conducted research on the blended-wing design concept since the early 1990s. In the late 1990s, Stanford University's Flight Research Laboratory and what was then McDonnell Douglas, now part of Boeing, conducted test flights of a 17-foot wingspan, remotely piloted blended-body wing craft at El Mirage dry lake.

Boeing, Stanford and NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia, as well as its Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, worked on the blended-wing concept during the late 1990s.

Researchers were planning to conduct tests with an even larger model, which would behave like a full-scale airplane, but the effort was derailed by the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

``Politically, it became difficult to sell the idea of an even larger airplane, for the obvious reasons,'' said Al Bowers, Dryden's chief of aerodynamics, who was in charge of that center's blended-wing body research.

There have been some informal discussions between Dryden and Stanford about follow-up research, but no further work is planned, Bowers said.

Boeing, however, is pushing ahead with its blended-wing research. The company commissioned a 21-foot-wingspan blended-wing aircraft to be built by Cranfield Aerospace in the United Kingdom. That research aircraft is tentatively scheduled to fly in 2004.

Phantom Works is also working for the Army on a small aircraft concept called the Light Aerial Multipurpose Vehicle, an aircraft Boeing officials described as a ``pickup truck'' for the military. The aircraft, capable of carrying six people, would fly at speeds of up to 300 mph and would have a range of about 1,200 miles.

The aircraft would take off and land vertically like a helicopter, but fly like an airplane. To do that, the Phantom Works concept calls for powering the aircraft with a series of engines, one set to push the aircraft up, and another set to push the plane forward.

``It would operate like the car in that movie 'Back to the Future,''' Skorupa said. ``You would lift off vertically until you were clear of obstacles and then go forward.''

To power the aircraft, Phantom Works is looking at an engine concept called the pulse detonation engine.

Unlike jet engines that conduct a slow, steady burn of fuel, the fuel is ignited in a series of detonations. Such engines do not require all the parts of a regular jet engine, saving weight and increasing reliability.

Boeing officials envision aircraft being powered by a series of such engines, perhaps even dozens. If one engine fails, the other engines would compensate for its loss.

``If you lose one engine, who cares?'' said Rich Ouellette, who is leading Phantom Works' pulse detonation engine research. ``You still get to land. You still get to go home.''

The engineering challenges facing Phantom Works on the engine are that it is extremely noisy - a World War II German winged missile powered by a similar one was called a buzz bomb - and it tends to burn large amounts of fuel, especially when in a hovering mode.

Boeing is not the only entity conducting research into the engine concept. At the Air Force Propulsion Directorate at Edwards Air Force Base, researchers are looking at different types of propellants with such engines.

The Air Force Propulsion Directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio is working with a Mojave company, Scaled Composites, to test a pulse detonation engine on a Long-EZ, a popular home-built aircraft design.

NASA's Glenn Research Center in Ohio is also conducting research with the engine concept.

Jim Skeen, (661) 267-5743

james.skeen(at)dailynews.com

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The Pelican - which would dwarf the world's largest aircraft, the Russian- built An-225 - is one of the Phantom Works concept planes Boeing showed off at a recent Long Beach expo.

Boeing Aircraft Co.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 16, 2003
Words:1111
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