World’s First Hydrogen UAV

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July 4, 2005 AeroVironment (AV) has successfully completed the world’s first liquid hydrogen powered Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) flight tests. In doing so, the fifty-foot wingspan prototype Global Observer aircraft accomplished a major milestone in AV’s unmanned High-Altitude Long-Endurance (HALE) development and continued the life work of one of the greatest inventors the world has ever known – Paul MacCready. MacCready founded AeroVironment after achieving the world’s first human powered flight and the world’s first solar powered flight more than a quarter of a century ago. The prototype flight was the last major milestone in the company’s HALE UAV technology development and demonstrates the practicality and operational robustness of the Global Observer system.

AeroVironment’s Global Observer HALE platform will be able to operate at 65,000 feet for over a week with a flexible payload-carrying capacity of up to 1,000 pounds. Using only two aircraft in rotation, with one Global Observer replacing the other on station once per week, this capability will provide seamless communication relay and remote sensing systems at breakthrough affordability. Government and commercial applications include:

    Persistent, global, near-space loitering capability for defense and homeland security missions

Low cost, rapidly deployable telecommunications infrastructure and GPS augmentation

Hurricane/storm tracking, weather monitoring, and wildfire detection/support

Environmental monitoring, agriculture optimization and aerial imaging/mapping capabilities

In addition to validating the functionality of the airplane and the propulsion system, these flight tests demonstrated safe and efficient hydrogen powered flight and mobile liquid hydrogen fuelling operations, the last technology challenge for the Global Observer system. With this completed milestone and adequate funding,

AV is confident that a Global Observer system can be deployed for U.S. government applications within two years. The Global Observer prototype accomplished a successful maiden liquid hydrogen powered flight on May 26 at the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona. It was flown again on June 2 demonstrating repeatable and reliable performance. The unmanned, fifty-foot wingspan aircraft operated entirely on liquid hydrogen fuel for over one hour on each flight and was flown under both manual control and autonomous waypoint navigation.

“Our dedicated, experienced team has achieved the last major milestone in our HALE UAV technology development,” said Tim Conver, AeroVironment’s president and chief executive. “We are now ready to quickly satisfy an urgent national security need for an affordable, persistent HALE system for communications relay and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.”

AeroVironment has been operating unmanned high-altitude platforms in the stratosphere for more than a decade and conducted over 50 flight tests on its earlier developmental electric HALE UAVs. Working with NASA, AV broke the world altitude record for all aircraft in level flight by flying an unmanned electric powered aircraft to 96,863 feet—well above the planned 65,000 feet operating altitude of the Global Observer.

In collaboration with the Japan Ministry of Post & Telecommunications, with payloads from NEC and Toshiba, AV also demonstrated the world’s first use of a UAV system for telecommunications applications from 65,000 feet. These successful demonstrations included high definition television (HDTV) broadcasting and third-generation mobile (3G) voice, video, and data transmissions to an off-the-shelf mobile handset and wireless modem equipped laptop. Multiple commercial remote sensing missions have also been flown.

AeroVironment has businesses focused on unmanned aerial vehicle systems, rapid charging systems, and advanced technology. The company exploits emerging technologies to help customers bypass previously accepted limitations with efficient solutions that dramatically enhance productivity, safety, and cost effectiveness.

AV is the world’s largest supplier of Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (SUAV) systems; Raven, Dragon Eye, Pointer and Swift SUAV systems are used extensively by the Department of Defense and increasingly by other U.S. government agencies and the allied military. AV is headquartered in Monrovia, California, USA.

MacCready is this week speaking at the International Conference on Thinking in Melbourne, Australia.

He will be the focus of an upcoming Gizmag feature.

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