A micro unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has set a new micro‐UAV flight distance record of 128 km in Lancaster, California, exceeding the previous record set in 2006 in Estonia by 40km. Significantly, this flight record was achieved using only 25% of the hydrogen tank capacity stored on‐board the aircraft. On a full tank of fuel, the aircraft’s flying range is 500 km.
The micro-UAV was designed by two leading U.S. aerospace research laboratories, the Dryden Flight Research Center and the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and supported by NASA. It is powered by Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies’ new ultra‐compact hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system which creates high‐efficiency electrical power by reacting hydrogen and oxygen from the air without combustion. The Horizon fuel cell system generates over 480 Watt hours per kilogram, or 2.6 times the energy density of the best available batteries.
Fuel cells enable longer flight times, quieter operation, less heat signature and higher reliability than batteries or other methods of propulsion for many UAV’s. So far very few fuel cell systems have been able to meet the extremely stringent size and weight requirements of UAVs. However, to be useful a UAV must carry a payload in addition to a propulsion system. Given the advances being made in fuel cell technology it seems inevitable that we’ll see hydrogen being used in military UAV’s in the next few years.