Unmanned aerial vehicles take flight using fuel cells

March 31st, 2009 - 2:49 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, March 31 (ANI): Scientists have used fuel cells to power unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which would help tactical decision-makers gather critical information more efficiently and more quietly.

Piloted remotely or autonomously, UAVs have long provided extra “eyes in the sky” especially for missions that are too dangerous for manned aircraft.

This latest technology is showcased by Ion Tiger, a UAV research program at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) that merges two separate efforts - UAV technology and fuel cell systems.

In particular, the Ion Tiger UAV tests a hydrogen-powered fuel cell design, which can travel farther and carry heavier payloads than earlier battery-powered designs.

Ion Tiger employs stealthy characteristics due to its small size, reduced noise, low heat signature and zero emissions.

Fuel cells create an electrical current when they convert hydrogen and oxygen into water and are pollution-free.

A fuel cell propulsion system can also deliver potentially twice the efficiency of an internal combustion engine - while running more quietly and with greater endurance.

“In this size range, we are hopefully able to conduct very productive surveillance missions at low cost with a relatively small vehicle, and a high-quality electric payload,” said NRL Principal Investigator Dr. Karen Swider-Lyons.

This spring, Ion Tiger’s flight trial is expected to exceed the duration of previous flights seven-fold.

“This will really be a ‘first of its kind’ demonstration for a fuel cell system in a UAV application for a 24-hour endurance flight, with a 5 pound payload,” said Office of Naval Research (ONR) Program Manager Dr. Michele Anderson.

“That’s something nobody can do right now,” he added. (ANI)

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