Fish in the sky

An unmanned hydrogen fuel cell powered jet made history this month as it took to the skies over the hills of Bern, Switzerland.

The HyFish, as the German UAV is called, performed vertical climbs, loops and other aerial acrobatics at speeds reaching 200 km/h.

These first  flights were the result of a cooperative development effort between the German Air & Space Center (DLR, or Deutsches Zentrum fuer Luft-und Raumfahrt) and a number of international partners, including Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies of Singapore, which provided the fuel cell that powered the flight of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

UAVs are one of the most demanding applications for emerging hydrogen fuel cell power technologies due to the constraints of size, weight and aerodynamics. Scientists at Stuttgart DLR Institute for Technical Thermodynamics integrated the Horizon fuel cell system into the aircraft, which boasts a total weight of just 6 kg, a fuselage length of 1.2m and a short 1m wingspan.

The fuel cell developed by Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies fulfilled all the required technical, physical and design conditions of this highly challenging system. The special fuel cell designed by the Horizon team produces an electrical power output of 1 kilowatt from a system weight of only 3 kilograms, which includes the pressurized hydrogen tank. In optimal conditions, the Horizon fuel cell stack alone was able to deliver a peak power of 1.3kW at only 800g of weight, achieving a  fuel cell power density of well over 1.5W per gram.

The HyFish is an engineering showcase for fuel cell efficiency and next generation energy technologies in small, unmanned aerial vehicle applications. This flight test proved significant achievements in design challenges, both in terms of weight per horsepower as well as in terms of mechanical load.

The HyFish hydrogen UAV will be on display to the general public at the Hannover Fair April 16 to 20, Stand G 32/1, Hall 13.