Wirth Research unveils details of unmanned endurance aircraft

An Oxfordshire company is leveraging its motorsports expertise in the development of a Tilt Rotor, Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) advanced terrain mapping drone powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.

Bicester-based Wirth Research is partnering with Singapore’s HES Energy Systems in the development of the Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) that will carry out long-endurance missions with a primary mission payload of terrain-mapping sensors and on-board data processors.

According to Wirth Research, the UAS will be powered by an advanced hybrid power system, featuring a hydrogen fuel cell as its primary energy source. The complete hydrogen fuel cell storage, control and power system will be provided by HES.

The combination of ultra-long endurance and VTOL capabilities could see the UAS applied in precision agriculture, pipeline and cable inspection, surveillance, plus detection and monitoring support for ordnance clearance operations.

Nick Wirth, Wirth Research founder and CEO, said: “It has been extremely challenging for Wirth Research to meet the requirements of VTOL capability, six-hour mission endurance, packaging a bulky payload mass and providing that payload with hundreds of watts of continuous electrical power.”

The company reportedly overcame these issues through the use of its own Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) package, which was used to optimise all aspects of HES’ fuel cell installation, with respect to airflow within the fuselage, to gain the best possible performance.

Wirth added that the UAS system can be adapted to carry and power a variety of sensors including stereo high-resolution gimbaled optical cameras, high-resolution infra-red sensors, LIDAR imagers and ground penetrating radar sensors. The ability to carry and power such payloads makes the UAS technology ideal for a variety of industry sectors with multiple applications beyond its primary task of terrain mapping.

“I’m also looking forward to developing further versions of this UAS concept for cargo transportation applications – for which it’s ideally suited – by virtue of its combination of VTOL capabilities, long endurance with zero emissions,” he said.

HES Founder and CEO, Taras Wankewycz, said: “The VTOL UAS developed by Wirth Research and powered by HES technology breaks new ground in the field of small but increasingly capable aerial robotics. There is no equivalent aircraft in the world able to demonstrate this level of flight endurance.

“We are shifting gears from a 200Wh/kg lithium battery capability to a 700Wh/kg fuel cell energy density capability, one that would radically change the applicability of drones, such as long-distance delivery, large area inspections at faster speed and lower cost, and a reduced need for expensive high altitude sensor payloads.”