UAV flies using fuel-cell system

A small unmanned aerial vehicle recently completed 23 hours of uninterrupted flight using an advanced fuel-cell system.


A small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) recently completed 23 hours of uninterrupted flight using an advanced fuel-cell system.


The US-based developer of the system, Protonex Technology, claims that the flight of the Ion Tiger UAV breaks an unofficial endurance record for fuel-cell-powered flight.


The flight was documented by the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) through a programme sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR).


It is claimed that the 23-hour-plus duration of the Ion Tiger flight surpasses all previous small UAV flights using any technology.


The Protonex power system is said to have given the Ion Tiger seven times the endurance capability of advanced batteries.


The system used in the Ion Tiger demonstration is an ultra-light proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel-cell system, coupling stack technology that can reportedly achieve 1,000W/kg with a specially designed balance of plant components.


Following this recent demonstration, Protonex is planning to transition its systems into small UAV products for both military and civilian applications.


The company believes that there is a market opening for such products because endurance capabilities demonstrated in its programme were only achievable with larger-scale, more costly UAVs.


‘This impressive 23-hour record flight milestone represents yet another successful collaboration with the NRL and is a culmination of all of our combined efforts to date,’ said Dr Paul Osenar, chief technology officer of Protonex. ‘We share the ONR’s vision towards bringing quiet electric propulsion and long endurance to today’s small UAVs and to extend the capability to the warfighter.’