University of Michigan students glided into the record books by breaking the old mark for a fuel cell powered unmanned aerial flight. The SolarBubbles student group kept the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) aloft for 10 hours, 15 minutes and 4 seconds breaking the previous record of the PUMA, which I have talked about before, that had a record of 9 hours.
The University of Michigan was a six month project initiated by local fuel cell manufacturer Adaptive Materials, Inc. who wanted the students’ help in testing their project. Adaptive Materials has current military contracts in the works, but wanted to involve students in this particular project who were interested and motivated in the field of alternative energy.
The Endurance UAV used propane reformed into hydrogen to power the fuel cell. At only 11.7 pounds in weight, the Endurance has an eight foot wingspan and took off from the ground rather than having a physical “throwing” assist like some UAV’s need.
The plane cost $2,500 outside of the costs for the fuel cell and the only reason it did not fly longer was that the students ran out of daylight and the UAV was getting hard to see and thus manage with their radio controls. The military has had a keen interest in fuel cell UAV’s for a while now.
Fuel cell UAV’s are ideal for flying in situations unsuitable for troops such as surveillance missions, mapping the environment or delivering medical supplies and can stay aloft for five to 10 times longer than planes operating on lithium-ion batteries.