MONROVIA, Calif., 9 July 2007.AeroVironment (AV), maker of unmanned aircraft systems and electric energy systems, 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 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 Corporation 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.
"Our customers, including the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Special Operations Command, rely upon our small UAS for real-time reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition," says Tim Conver, president and chief executive officer of AV.