Fuel cells and UAS – the right combination

Without any doubt, there has been a real breakthrough in the propulsion of unmanned air systems (UAS).

For a long time, many companies around the world have been trying to develop an efficient fuel cell power pack to supply electricity to operate the propeller of a UAS.

All the signs now point to a real revolution in this area. Israeli UAS manufacturer BlueBird Aero Systems has unveiled WanderB, a fuel cell-powered mini UAS, capable of flying for more than 10 hours.

The development of this new UAV was matured by BlueBird Aero Systems through 2013. The project has been supported by the Singapore Israel Industrial R&D Foundation (SIIRD).

The UAS is automatically launched and is designed to carry payloads of up to 1.5kg, including ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) triple sensor payloads (day/IR/laser) and photogrammetric payloads (day/multi-spectral/ IR), all developed by BlueBird.

According to Ronen Nadir, BlueBird’s president, customers are already negotiating the purchase of the fuel cell-powered UAS. “Due to its long endurance, it will reduce dramatically the operational cost and increase the system effectiveness,” he said. Horizon in Singapore developed the chemical part of the power pack, but “we developed all the other parts, including the software,” he added.

Nadir revealed that the WanderB has made test flights using the fuel cells to altitudes of 15,000ft (4570m), and in different weather conditions.

“This is the first time that we have a power pack that is not used for one or two flight tests,” Nadir said. “This time we have a system that can go into series production.”

He revealed that the plan is to use the new fuel cells on the company’s heaviest UAS, the ThunderB. This has a maximum take-off weight (TOW) of 24kg, including a 3.5 kg payload.

According to the president of the Israeli company, the future will see more and more UAS powered by fuel cells.

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