AeroVironment UAV completes hydrogen-powered flight

AeroVironment’s Global Observer unmanned aircraft has successfully completed its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base (EAFB) in California powered by a liquid-hydrogen-fuelled propulsion system.

The Monrovia, California-based company will ultimately make the Global Observer available for procurement and for operation as a turnkey service to provide communications and remote imaging in a manner similar to satellite services, but at a much lower cost.

The hydrogen-powered flight lasted for four hours, during which time the aircraft reached an altitude of 5,000ft above sea level over the US Air Force Flight Test Center. The flight followed the successful battery-powered flight test of a demonstration vehicle during the months of August and September last year.

The flight team now plans to conduct a series of tests to validate the aircraft’s high-altitude, long-endurance performance. The flights will include the US Air Force’s Joint Aerial Layer Network (JALN) Tactical Communications Suite (TCS) payload that provides a persistent, IP-based aerial communications infrastructure from a Global Observer aircraft positioned at 65,000ft above sea level.

The usefulness of the Global Observer will also be assessed during these flight tests for future US government, civil and military uses.

AeroVironment received a contract to develop and demonstrate the unmanned aircraft thanks to funds from a US Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) programme in September 2007.