Elbit Systems has tested the Aeropak fuel cell system with a Skylark I-LE mini-UAV. The suitability of the fuel cell as a power supply for UAVs evaluated in the recent test was conducted in Israel, using an operationally configured system carrying full mission payload (comprising of a stabilized EO payload, avionics and communications datalink). According to Singapore based Horizon, the fuel-cell powered Skylark I-LE is expected to double the current endurance (around 3 hours), delivering 900Wh net usable energy per liter of fuel.

The Aeropak fuel cell system recently tested with Elbit System's Skylark 1LE could double the mission endurance of this electrically powered mini UAV. Photo: Elbit Systems

Simulating real battlefield conditions and an actual payload in order to test the operational mission performance of the new fuel cell technology, Skylark’s new AEROPAK-enabled propulsion system was subjected to a number of operating scenarios. Tests included repeated take-offs and abrupt landings on various terrains, to determine the fuel cell’s durability and ruggedness, withstand rough landing impact. The UAS was also flown in windy and turbulent weather to gauge the fuel cell’s capability to sustain continuous high power drain from the aircraft’s motor. The Skylark I-LE system is currently operated with the Israel Defense forces ‘Skyrider’ unit, and with several international military users.

Designed as a drop-in replacement for lithium-polymer battery packs used in 5-10kg class UAVs, Horizon’s standard first generation AEROPAK is capable of delivering 600W peak power and 900Wh net usable energy, at less than 2kg total system weight. It uses hot-swappable cartridges that eliminate the need for battery chargers in the field.

The Aeropak fuel sell system has already been demonstrated on several mini-UAVs. The fuel cell has doubled the mission endurance of the Israeli IAI Birdeye 650LE from three to six hours, while the endurance of the South Korean RemoEye-006 experimental mini-UAV was increased from 2 hours to five, using Aeropak energy source.

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