Hydrogen-powered UAV in the works

The U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research plans to launch a 24-hour, hydrogen fuel cell-powered endurance flight carrying a 5-pound payload.

ONR

In what it says is a "first of its kind" initiative, the U.S. Navy plans to launch sometime this spring an unmanned aerial vehicle for a 24-hour endurance flight carrying a 5-pound payload and powered entirely by a hydrogen-powered fuel cell.

Called the Ion Tiger, the UAV can travel farther and carry heavier loads than earlier battery-powered designs, according to the Office of Naval Research. It also boasts "stealthy characteristics" such as reduced noise, low heat signature, and zero emissions (PDF).

"This will really be a demonstration for a fuel cell system in a UAV application," ONR Program Manager Dr. Michele Anderson said. "That's something nobody can do right now."

Fuel cells convert hydrogen and oxygen into water in a pollution-free process to create an electrical current delivering up to double the efficiency of an internal combustion engine, researchers claim.

The Tiger will use a "500-watt polymer fuel cell with a high specific power system." Weight will be reduced using high-pressure lightweight hydrogen storage tanks. The UAV has already "demonstrated sound aerodynamics, high functionality, and low-heat and noise signatures under battery-powered tests," according to ONR.

This test will show how a surveillance drone can operate economically with less possibility of detection and still exceed the duration of previous flights seven-fold.

Collaborators include Protonex Technology and the University of Hawaii.

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    The military establishment's ever increasing reliance on technology and whiz-bang gadgetry impacts us as consumers, investors, taxpayers and ultimately as the defended. Our mission here is to bring some of these products and concepts to your attention based on carefully selected criteria such as importance to national security, originality, collateral damage to the treasury and adaptability to yard maintenance-but not necessarily in that order. E-mail him at markr@milapp.com. Disclosure.

     

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