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World’s first commercial fuel cell Unmanned Aerial System

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August 6, 2009

World’s first commercial fuel cell Unmanned Aerial System

World’s first commercial fuel cell Unmanned Aerial System

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The world’s first long endurance, commercial hydrogen fuel cell powered Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) will be showcased at AUVSI in Washington on August 11. Developed by BlueBird Aero Systems, “Boomerang” is a electric powered 9kg UAS which can fly for over nine hours using a high performance hydrogen-electric power system from Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies. Named AEROPAK, the self-contained 2kg fuel cell power system from Horizon can deliver 900Wh, at the same time as significantly increasing flight endurance, minimizing acoustic signature and reducing overall size of the UAS.

Unmanned aircraft are used in a variety of military, homeland security and civilian applications. The unique ability to perform long endurance missions with a mini UAS, as presented by BlueBird’s Boomerang, is a great benefit especially for border patrol, infrastructure surveillance, critical assets and environmental monitoring missions.

BlueBird Aero Systems concluded a three-year effort to integrate the Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell technology into a specially designed UAS, developing support systems like hybrid capabilities for system power redundancy, fuel-cell cooling mechanism and more. The fuel cell-powered UAS is already licensed for flights in Israel and is graded as a "matured" system.

Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies of Singapore have been known to deliver the world’s highest energy density performance for PEM fuel cell technology, and orders of magnitude beyond than what is possible today with the best lithium batteries. The company has made significant technological progress in the recent months and believes it currently offers the world’s lightest and most compact electrical energy storage system, which fits very well with the needs of small electric UAS.

Hydrogen-electric powered UAS will bring important new capabilities - reduced acoustic signature, smaller size, as well as increased effectiveness in increasingly important persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. Where battery performance limits the effective use of these promising systems, Horizon’s next-generation fuel cell power systems will improve versatility and open new mission possibilities for small aircraft such as BlueBird’s Boomerang UAS. In addition to increasing flight endurance, Horizon’s new fuel cell system also makes it possible to increase the capability of smaller and lower cost aircraft by integrating more power draining electronic devices, such as electro-optical sensors, infrared cameras and laser designators.

Over the next 10 years, industry analysts expect the acquisition market for UAS to exceed USD$44 billion in the U.S. alone. According to Ron Stearns of G2 Solutions in Seattle, WA, “the use of pervasive UASs is increasing because the persistent ISR capabilities they bring are unmatched. Horizon’s fuel cells have the potential to improve the Size, Weight and Power (SWaP) configuration for tactical UAS propulsion, leading to increased UAS endurance or expanded sensor and/or communications-relay capabilities.”

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