AeroVironment Announces Record Flight Using Fuel Cell Battery Hybrid System

June 27, 2007 by Jeff Shepard

AeroVironment (AV) announced that it successfully flew its Puma small unmanned aircraft for nearly five hours while it was powered by an onboard fuel cell battery hybrid energy storage system. This successful demonstration marked the completion of the first task under AV’s contract with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) for the development of advanced propulsion technologies for unmanned aircraft.

The $4.7 million, five-year IDIQ contract calls for several development tasks designed to improve the efficiency and flight duration of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Other tasks under the contract include improvement of electric motor efficiency, integration of solar cells into aircraft wings, and the exploration of hydrogen storage technologies. For this flight demonstration, AV worked with Protonex Technology Corp. to develop the fuel cell battery hybrid energy storage system, which included hydrogen generation technology licensed from Millennium Cell Inc..

Puma’s standard propulsion system comes equipped with rechargeable batteries with a listed flight time of 2.5 hours. The nearly five-hour duration of the Puma flight using fuel cell battery hybrid power surpassed the longest previous Puma flight achieved by AV using any technology. Looking forward, AV and Protonex expect Puma flight durations to increase further through optimization and continued development of the hybrid system.

Each of AV’s small UAS can be transported and set up with minimal logistical footprint, and launched and operated by one person. Each is powered by a replaceable and rechargeable battery pack. Using standard propulsion systems, Wasp, Raven and Puma can fly for up to 30, 90 and 150 minutes, respectively, while wirelessly transmitting live video and other information generated by electro-optical or infrared sensor payloads, enabling their operators to view and capture images on a hand-held ground control unit. Their high degree of portability and flexibility in real world applications enable these systems to provide tactical units with critical information when and where they need it, facilitating faster, safer movement through urban and rural environments. Consistently high levels of operational availability in areas of operation insure that AV’s small UAS are ready and able to perform their missions reliably when required. To date, AV has produced more than 6,000 small unmanned aircraft.