Russian Fuel Cell Powered UAV Sets Flight Time Record
Russian Fuel Cell Powered UAV Sets Flight Time Record
author Added by FuelCellsWorks, April 25, 2016

The Russian octocopter made by NELK Company, equipped with hydrogen-air fuel cells, developed at the RAS Institute of Problems of Chemical Physics (IPCP), set a world record for the duration of flight in open spaces among multirotor drones during tests in Chernogolovka near Moscow. The flight duration of the octocopter was 3 hours 10 minutes. The development of innovative fuel systems that allowed the unit to stay in the air for such a long time, was done in partnership with the Central Institute of aviation motors n. a. P. I. Baranov (TsIAM) and the United aircraft Corporation (UAC).

"A series of tests were carried out in Chernogolovka near Moscow for more than a year — from March 2015 to April 2016," said the Executive Director of the NELK Company Igor Vasilevsky. "The aircraft is equipped with an electrochemical power source - a power plant using hydrogen-air fuel cells. The UAV can lift a pound of payload. Hydrogen-air fuel cells domestic developments allow you to make a record flight in the conditions of cold Russian winters, and high humidity."

The Octocopter's weight is 12 kg, the power plant has a capacity of 1.3 kW, and the payload is 0.5 kg. Hydrogen fuel is considered to be the most promising in the transport sector, therefore several companies lead the development in this direction. The Canadian developer EnergyOr Technologies has demonstrated impressive results. In June 2015, EnergyOr reported a record flight duration of the drone on hydrogen fuel, which lasted 3 hours, 43 minutes and 48 seconds. To date, this is the record for continuous flight for multirotor UAVs. Judging by the video posted on the website of EnergyOr, the record was set in the hangar, and the copter did not fly — it pulled away from the surface of half a meter and hung in the air. That is it, the record was set with maximum economy and indoors.

Tests of the NELK octocopter, on the contrary, were held under the open sky, and over three hours of flight were demonstrated in difficult weather conditions. 

"The copter flew in the gusty wind conditions and at times under the rain," said the head of the Ionics of solid objects of IPCP RAS Yuri Dobrovolsky, who participated in the tests. "The flight modes were changed during the tests i.e. autopilot and remote control modes, the copter changed the height and downlinked images and videos. But in greenhouse conditions it was supposed to fly, according to our calculations, about 4 hours and 20 minutes."

"A priority for today's aircraft engineering trends is the creation of a "more electric aircraft" — requires double the capacity of batteries and generators," said the Director of the Scientific and technical centre UAC Vladimir Kargoltsev. "The development of the IPCP is an important step not only for unmanned aviation, but other industries — robotics, automotive, and communications.

General designer of UAC Sergey Korotkov noted that the technology of RAS chemists may be involved in newer aircraft — medium-range MS-21 airliner and wide-body aircraft, developed in cooperation with foreign partners.
High duration of the octocopter flight has been achieved through special design of membrane-electrode assemblies, which generate electricity through electrochemical reaction of hydrogen and oxygen and operate at extreme temperatures from -60 to +40 °C. The Hydrogen-air fuel cells are formed on the basis of these assemblies. The bulk of the work to create them was done in the laboratory of solid object Ionics of IPCP RAS (Russian Academy of Sciences). The project also participated LLC "Hey T. energy", LLC "AFM-servers" and CJSC "Aerocon".

"We should congratulate the world record team, and the result is shown in hydrogen energy — one of the most promising areas of development of modern technologies," said the chief analyst of the GLONASS nonprofit partnership, Andrei Ionin. And if we began to set world records like in the 60-ies of the last century, this in itself is good. Small drones are brand new type of air transport, for them there is a huge scope of applications, these copters are simple and cheap to operate. And the time spent in the air is, perhaps, the main technological barrier to the development of such aircraft. Hydrogen power is the way out of this situation.

Translated For Fort Russ by Soviet Bear