BINGEN, Wash., 6 April 2012. Insitu Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing (NYSE: BA), announced that its ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) successfully completed its first hydrogen-powered fuel cell flight during a two-and-a-half-hour flight test. The hydrogen-powered fuel cell solution was implemented as a modular upgrade to the runway-independent, expeditionary Group 2 ScanEagle UAV.
The collaboration between Insitu, Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and United Technologies (UTC) took UTC's 1500 Watt (2 HP) fuel cell and integrated it with NRL's hydrogen fueling solution into a ScanEagle propulsion module. Then, in three days, that propulsion module was fully integrated into the ScanEagle UAV at Insitu's facilities in Bingen, Wash.
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The approach used in the hydrogen-powered fuel cell solution costs less than today's gas and heavy fuel solutions in UAVs. The solution also weighs less than traditional engines. Reducing aircraft weight increases payload capacity, so propulsion approaches like this will enable ScanEagle UAVs to carry heavier payloads while reducing costs.
The Department of Defense recently laid out its vision for the role that fuel cells will play in improving mission capability. Looking forward, Insitu is collaborating with the Air Force Research Lab to flight test a fuel cell on the Integrator UAV later this year.