Insitu has announced new details about its latest efforts to advance hydrogen fuel cell propulsion for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
The wholly-owned subsidiary of Boeing announced in December 2020 that it had completed the first flight of its’ ScanEagle UAV powered by an all-electric, hydrogen-fuelled, proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell.
The 30-minute flight revealed initial performance characteristics such as power output, climb rate and intrinsic aerodynamic flight characteristics for the UAV in preparation for test flights using a liquid hydrogen storage tank on the aircraft that are planned for later this year.
This was followed by a first fill test in February 2021 with the ScanEagle3 UAV successfully completing a liquid hydrogen fill with pressure sand vapor generation testing at Washington State University’s Hydrogen Properties for Energy Research (HyPER) Lab.
The liquid hydrogen tank is claimed to be an industry first and is expected to support up to 10+ hours of endurance for ScanEagle3.
The tests verified operation performance metrics of the liquid hydrogen tank in preparation for upcoming flights of ScanEagle3 equipped with a PEM fuel cell power system.
Andrew Duggen, Managing Director at Insitu Pacific, said, “For our global defence customers, fuel cell-powered UAVs in this Group 2 space represent a significant gamechanger in the battlespace.”
“Operationally, fuel cell-powered platforms provide the potential for longer endurance missions, increased power availability for payloads, as well as significant reductions in noise signature.”
These tests are reflective of the defence industry’s growing interest in the benefits of hydrogen fuel cell technology, which range from environmental to operational.
The new PEM fuel cell provides better ISR tracing in addition to thermal and acoustic that are significantly lower than traditional internal combustion (IC) opening up the possibility of mission routes that are much closer to their designated targets.
The tests are expected to continue in the second quarter of 2021, with the first liquid hydrogen flight planned for late summer 2021.