The first Insitu Scan Eagle has flown powered by a hydrogen fuel cell instead of traditional fossil fuel, successfully completing a 2h flight.
The Scan Eagle flight marks the first time a widely-flown unmanned air vehicle (UAV) has been modified with a hydrogen fuel cell.
The flight was powered by a United Technologies Power-built 1500W fuel cell, equivalent to Scan Eagle's standard 2hp internal combustion engine.
"Fuel cell technology will improve significantly in the future," says Insitu Chief Engineer Jeff Knapp. "Today's internal combustion engines, especially two-stroke technology, are well optimised. Fuel cell technology has room for growth, and that will provide an opportunity for continued efficiency improvements and weight reduction."
The experimental modification of the US Navy's standard small ship-launched UAV is a joint project by Insitu, the Naval Research Laboratory and UTC. A larger UAV, the Insitu Integrator, will undergo similar modifications later in 2012, in a cooperative programme with the Air Force Research Laboratory.
The US military has a large and growing experimental alternative energies programme. Neither the US Navy nor Insitu were immediately available for comment.