(AV), a developer of unmanned High-Altitude Long-Endurance (HALE) aircraft, has recently completed the world’s first liquid hydrogen powered Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) flight tests.
AeroVironment’s Global Observer HALE platform, a fifty-foot wingspan prototype aircraft, will be able to operate at 65,000 feet for over a week with a flexible payload-carrying capacity of up to 1,000 pounds.
Using only two aircraft in rotation, with one Global Observer replacing the other on station once per week, the aircraft will enable the deployment of communication relay and remote sensing systems.
AV said in a statement that government and commercial applications include: persistent, global, near-space loitering for defence and homeland security missions; low cost, rapidly deployable telecommunications infrastructure and GPS augmentation; weather tracking and environmental monitoring; and aerial imaging or mapping.
In addition to validating the functionality of the airplane and the propulsion system, these flight tests demonstrated safe and efficient hydrogen powered flight and mobile liquid hydrogen fuelling operations, the last technology challenge for the Global Observer system. With this completed milestone and adequate funding, AV is confident that a Global Observer system can be deployed for US government applications within two years.
The Global Observer prototype accomplished a successful maiden liquid hydrogen powered flight on May 26 at the US Army’s Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona. It was flown again on June 2 demonstrating repeatable and reliable performance. The unmanned aircraft operated entirely on liquid hydrogen fuel for over one hour on each flight and was flown under both manual control and autonomous waypoint navigation.
AeroVironment has been operating unmanned high-altitude platforms in the stratosphere for more than a decade and conducted over 50 flight tests on its earlier developmental electric HALE UAVs.