AUVSI: Horizon launches Aeropak fuel cell power system

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Horizon Energy Systems (booth 2828) is at the show to launch commercial sales of its Aeropak hydrogen fuel cell power system, designed to bring a 300% flight duration improvement to today's battery-operated 5-10kg class mini-unmanned air vehicles (UAV).

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has provided a major shot in the arm for the project by announcing that it is adopting the Aeropak as a power system for its Bird Eye 650 unmanned air system. Without increasing take-off weight, the fuel cell enables the mini-UAS to achieve 6h flights, a more than two-fold improvement compared with flights powered by lithium batteries, says IAI.

Fuel cell applications have been the subject of research in defense laboratories around the world for many years, and Horizon claims it has made a "significant leap forward" by applying its ultra-light fuel cell system technologies to a "practical and commercial product" ready for use by UAV manufacturers.

"The AEROPAK is no longer a proof of concept, a bench-top demonstrator, or a one-off working prototype," says Gareth Tang, managing director of Singapore-based Horizon. "It is a field-tested airborne system with a high degree of reliability and we are already taking orders from a number of world-leading UAV market participants."

Horizon claims its fuel cell system - being demonstrated live at its booth - is the most energy-dense electric power system available. Battery-powered electric motors allow mini-UAVs to stay aloft for up to two hours, but Horizon's Aeropak technology is designed to enable the same mini-UAVs to stay aloft for 8-10h without increasing take-off weight.

This capability offers the possibility of conducting multiple missions in a single take-off, says Horizon, which reduces casualty risk or the possibility of compromising tactical formations in the field - while saving significantly on logistical and operational costs.

The Aeropak integrates Horizon's fuel cell technology with dry-fuel cartridges. Storing 900Wh of electrical energy, the system weighs 4.4lbs (2kg).

For UAV manufacturers, changing to Aeropak will not necessarily mean changing their aircraft. "The miniaturized power system makes it very easy to use as drop-in replacement for battery packs currently in service, eliminating costly airframe modifications," says Horizon.

Horizon demonstrated its capabilities through a series of pioneering fuel cell flights, which included Hyfish, a 1kW Horizon fuel cell powered jet-wing UAV integrated by the German Air & Space Agency DLR and the Pterosaur development which set a new distance FAI world record in 2007 (video).

Horizon is conducting live demonstrations at its booth.