Polymer-Electrolyte Fuel Cells for UAV Applications Providing Solutions to Revolutionize UAVs 2012-01-2161
Over the past decade, fuel cell systems have begun to appear as both primary and auxiliary power sources for aircraft. Fuel cells enable quiet electric aircraft with endurances that exceed equivalent battery powered vehicles, but have been limited to efficient fixed-wing aircraft due to low fuel cell power-to-weight ratios. This paper begins by discussing polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell (PEFC) advancements at United Technologies Corporation (UTC) that have resulted in a significant increase in both the power-to-weight and power-to-volume ratios of fuel cell systems. As a result of these advances, UTC PEFC systems can now enable longer endurance missions for smaller UAVs as well as be considered for electric aircraft requiring vertical takeoff and landing capability. The move into vertical takeoff for electric aircraft is of particular interest as capabilities such as hover, perch and stare, and runway independence are enabled. As a demonstration of the technology, a proof-of-concept 1.75 kW PEFC system was developed that enabled the first fuel cell powered rotorcraft. This PEFC system is described and results derived from the flight tests are discussed.