Fuel cell powers successful UAV test flights

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Ballard Power Systems announced that its subsidiary company Protonex has used its PEM (proton exchange membrane) fuel cell propulsion system to successfully power test flights of the ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The ScanEagle is manufactured by Insitu, a wholly owned subsidiary of Boeing.

“These test flights have successfully demonstrated the integration and operation of our fuel cell propulsion system as well as the high pressure hydrogen fuel tank,” said Paul Osenar, Protonex president. “The tests also documented acoustic footprint reduction that will enable mission routes that take the ScanEagle closer to its targets. In addition, test flights confirm that our fuel cell propulsion system offers power during flight that can be used to support greater payload diversity. When combined with improved reliability and other advantages over internal combustion systems, fuel cells are proving to be a tremendous fit for UAVs.”

Advantages of the Protonex fuel cell propulsion modules over traditional internal combustion engine propulsion systems include: significant improvement in the expected MTBF (mean time between failures); silent operation; 100% throttle flexibility, including mid-air start-stop capability; and the use of existing JP8 fuel in ground refueling systems.

Insitu’s ScanEagle is a versatile platform with multiple payload capabilities, including high-definition imaging at a fraction of the cost of larger UAV systems, and has logged over 800,000 flight-hours in military and civilian applications, making it one of the most successful UAV platforms to date. The ScanEagle is operated in conjunction with Insitu’s Mark4 Launcher – a low-maintenance, runway-independent platform – along with its SkyHook recovery system.

ScanEagle is 1.55m (5.1ft) in length, has a wingspan of 3.11m (10.2ft) and maximum take-off weight of 22kg (48.5 lb). The ScanEagle can fly at a maximum speed of 41.2m/s (80 kts), reach a ceiling of 5,944m (19,500ft) and has an endurance capability of more than 24 hours.

April 27, 2017

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With over 20 years experience in editorial management and content creation for multiple, market-leading titles at UKi Media & Events (publisher of Aerospace Testing International), one of the UK's fastest growing publishing companies, Anthony has written articles and news covering everything from aircraft, airports and cars, to cruise ships, trains, trucks and even tires!

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