Bluebird aims for 10h endurance fuel cell for Thunderbird

Tel Aviv
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Israeli unmanned air vehicle manufacturer BlueBird will demonstrate its new fuel cell powered "Thunderbird" UAV by next year.

BlueBird has already demonstrated its Boomerang UAV, which also uses fuel cells and achieved a 5h endurance on its first flight. Boomerang used the company's first-generation fuel cell.

"We are planning to use an improved fuel cell system on [Thunderbird], now in the final design stages and hope to achieve an endurance of more than 10h," says BlueBird chief executive Ronen Nadir.

He explains that the new fuel cell system will generate over 500W/kg and its future products will use 3kg (6.6lb) fuel cells. Today's small UAVs use lithium-polymer batteries that Nadir says generate only 200W.

BlueBird also manufactures the Micro-B UAV, a 1kg tactical vehicle that will use a new 120g (4.23oz) optical payload, have an endurance of 1h and can be assembled in the field by two soldiers in 5min. As a set, a ground station and three Micro-Bs will cost about $100,000.

The Israeli company has designed the SkyLite-B UAV that is distributed by Rafael. While BlueBird manufactures the UAV itself, Rafael is providing the ground station and is expected to buy up to 30% of BlueBird's shares. Athlone Global Security, a Virginia-based US company, has recently become a partner in BlueBird. BlueBird hopes its partnerships will improve its chances in the US market.