Fuel cell air vehicle takes off

The Hornet, DARPA’s first entirely fuel cell-powered micro air vehicle, has made its first successful flight in Simi Valley, CA.

The Hornet, DARPA’s fuel cell-powered micro air vehicle, has made its first successful flight in Simi Valley, CA, flying three times for 15 minutes.

The radio-controlled vehicle, collaboratively developed by Lynntech and AeroVironment, has a flying-wing design and sports a 15 inch wingspan. Its total weight when fuelled is just six ounces.

As can be seen in the photograph, the fuel cell itself incorporates a stiff metal mesh that also functions as a mechanical structure to strengthen the wing.

Hydrogen is stored in a dry, solid, pellet form. It is released when combined with water, which is also carried in the vehicle. When the hydrogen reacts with oxygen collected from the airflow over the wing, it produces electricity which powers the radio, servos, motor, pumps, and other systems.

During the flight, the radio control system was used to control the aircraft’s throttle, rudder, and elevator surface. An additional radio channel was used to modulate the rate of hydrogen release.

The Hornet is being developed under DARPA’s Synthetic Multifunctional Materials program, which is exploring materials that combine the function of structure with another critical system function such as power, repair, or ballistic protection.

DARPA says that the next generation of Hornet could incorporate a simple autopilot and carry a colour video camera.

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