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The ScanEagle manufactured by Boeing subsidiary Insitu has logged more than one million flight hours in military and civilian applications. It can be equipped with multiple payload capabilities, including high-definition imaging. Now the familiar is about to be equipped with a new fuel cell propulsion system.
Ballard Power Systems will develop the next generation of fuel cells for unmanned aircraft systems and collaborate with Insitu.
Ballard received a follow-on contract with Insitu for extended durability testing of the next-generation 1.3-kilowatt fuel cell propulsion system for the fixed-wing ScanEagle.
The two companies have partnered over the past two years on an earlier generation fuel cell system. They will now work on integrating a complete hydrogen power system for small unmanned fixed-wing and vertical-take-off-and-landing (VTOL) drones into the ScanEagle platform. According to magazine.com, successful flight testing was announced in mid-2017.
According to Ballard, its fuel cell propulsion system delivers a number of important advances, including increased power density, reduced cost and extended lifetime. The company said the increase in rated power—without an appreciable increase in size or weight—is a significant development for applications.
“This new fuel cell has the potential to deliver a range of benefits compared to the use of an internal combustion engine, or ICE, to power the ScanEagle,” said Phil Robinson, vice president of unmanned systems at Protonex, a Ballard subsidiary. “These benefits are likely to include an increase in reliability and available electrical power along with a simultaneous reduction in audible noise, thereby enabling lower altitude missions.”
Further performance tests and customer demonstrations will be held in 2018.