Drones

Hydrogen-powered VTOL drone flies for 3.5 hours

Hydrogen-powered VTOL drone fl...
A composite photo of the drone taking off from a coastguard ship
A composite photo of the drone taking off from a coastguard ship
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The drone incorporates an 800-watt fuel cell, which is fed by an onboard 300-bar (4,351-psi), 6.8-liter carbon composite hydrogen cylinder (two of which are pictured here)
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The drone incorporates an 800-watt fuel cell, which is fed by an onboard 300-bar (4,351-psi), 6.8-liter carbon composite hydrogen cylinder (two of which are pictured here)
A composite photo of the drone taking off from a coastguard ship
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A composite photo of the drone taking off from a coastguard ship
Another multi-exposure take-off shot
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Another multi-exposure take-off shot
View gallery - 3 images

VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) drones are quite versatile, as they combine the vertical flight of a helicopter with the fast and efficient forward flight of a fixed-wing airplane. This one features an extended range, thanks to a fuel cell power system.

The experimental aircraft was developed by a team at the Netherlands' Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), working with colleagues from the Royal Netherlands Navy and the Netherlands Coastguard. It has a 3-meter (9.8 ft) wingspan, weighs 13 kg (29 lb), and features 12 motor/propeller units distributed on its two wings. Even if several of the motors fail, it can reportedly still fly and land successfully.

The drone is also a "tail-sitter"-type VTOL. This means that when taking off and landing, its body is angled upwards, allowing the propellers to work more like a helicopter's rotor blades. For going into forward flight, the thrust is electronically redistributed between the 12 motors, causing the aircraft to level out into a horizontal orientation.

Another multi-exposure take-off shot
Another multi-exposure take-off shot

It additionally incorporates an 800-watt fuel cell, which is fed by an onboard 300-bar (4,351-psi), 6.8-liter carbon composite hydrogen cylinder. In forward flight, the motors are powered solely by that fuel cell, which also charges an onboard battery pack. For take-offs and landings – which require considerably more power than cruising – both the fuel cell and the battery power the motors.

In a recent trial conducted off the Dutch coast, the drone took off from the deck of a coastguard ship, then proceeded to fly over the open ocean for 3.5 hours before landing back on the vessel. It is hoped that the aircraft could ultimately find use in applications such as reconnaissance and inspection.

You can see it in action, in the video below.

Source: DU Delft

Novel versatile hydrogen drone developed by TUDelft - MAVLab [EN]

View gallery - 3 images
9 comments
christopher
You could double the time in the air and halve the cost by replacing the hydrogen with batteries. This simply a VTOL glider, and with a whopping 13kg - that's more than enough for 6+ hours from 4 of these: https://www.foxtechfpv.com/diamond-6s-30000mah-semi-solid-state-lipo-battery.html (120,000wh).
windykites
Wouldn't a helium filled blimp be able to fly for even longer?
michael_dowling
christopher: Got a 404 when I clicked on your link. Batteries do not scale successfully to be able to power aircraft for distances see with ICE engines. H2 fuel cells are the future for aircraft of all types,especially long range ones.
BlueOak
Not so sure I’d like a 4,351-psi cylinder flying over me, regardless of the contents. Basically a missile if it were to fall from the sky on the valve end. A scuba tank on the ground is one thing, but...
PB
I concur about the range and durability of hydrogen power. However, since the byproduct is water and since aircraft fly at high altitude below the freezing levels, the deice system that prevents the water output freezing has to be accommodated. It's probably simple, but still adds to weight.
Presently, large aircraft fly at 40,000 feet an mach .85 for fifteen hours plus reserves, and battery power won't do this, even without the weight of freight or passengers. But this little hydrogen drone is a start and I'd like to hear more.
AngryPenguin
@windykites - Yeah, but then storing and transporting it would be more difficult.
yawood
Christopher: Don't believe everything you read. There is no way a battery could match the endurance of the hydrogen power. As for those batteries, here's some comments I found on an RC site:

"purchased 2 of these “solid state” LiPo batteries. One arrived with a dead cell, but the other one sent the copter and gimbal crazy. When the supplier was contacted they would not take them back or refund. Beware."

"I bought 10 batteries, 5 of them have arrived damaged. Fox tech have replaced free of charge, but I had to pay the taxes again. I didn’t measure how long I flew, but seems to be the same as a 20.000 amp."
michael_dowling
BlueOak: Several gallons of gasoline would also ruin your day if it dropped on your head.
BlueOak
@michael_dowling, except the gasoline would not be a 4,300 psi powered missile.