November 4, 2007 A hydrogen fuel-cell powered Micro-Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) has set a new distance record for craft of its type while only using a quarter of its available fuel. The “Pterosoar” flew 78 miles (120 km) - beating the previous record of 50 miles set in Estonia last year – consuming only 16 of the 64 grams grams of Hydrogen stored on board in a pressurized hydrogen tank, giving the aircraft a potential flight range of 310 miles (500 km).
Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies (the company known for the H-Racer RC car and its involvement in the propulsion system for the 200 km/h Hyfish jet-wing UAV) provided the fuel cell system for the joint project supported by NASA, the Dryden Flight Research Center, the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation and led by Principal Investigators Dr. Maj Mirmirani, Dean of the Mechanical Engineering Department at California State University of Los Angeles (fuel cell system testing and integration); Dr Andy Arena of Oklahoma State University Aerospace Engineering Laboratory (fuel cell aircraft development); and Temasek Polytechnic of Singapore (system control electronics).
Fuel cells are an attractive proposition for micro-UAVs because they have the potential to deliver longer flight times, quieter operation, less heat signature, and higher reliability than batteries or other methods of propulsion. The ultra‐compact propulsion system used in project Pterosoar reacts hydrogen and oxygen from the air without combustion. The fuel-cell creates electrical power at 480 Watt hours per kilogram - 2.6 times the energy density of the best available batteries according to Horizon Fuel Cell.
The Pterosoar aircraft (the name comes from a class of dinosaur that the aircraft resembles due to the shape of the fuel cell cooling scoops in its nose) will attempt a new world endurance record for small‐size unmanned planes in the next few weeks, aiming to exceed 15.5 hours of flight.