Aurora Flight Sciences Announces New Fixed-Wing eVTOL Small UAS

SKIRON-X is a Group 2 sUAS that combines simple operation with flight endurance and payload flexibility.
Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing Company, has released its latest small UAS product, the Skiron
Expeditionary sUAS, or SKIRON-X. This Group 2 unmanned aircraft system (UAS) combines the simple
operation of an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) configuration with the longer range and
endurance of a fixed-wing design. SKIRON-X is a flexible solution for effective deployment across a wide
variety of environments.

With an EO/IR camera that provides excellent ground resolution, a low noise signature, and a military-
grade radio, SKIRON-X is well suited for airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR)
missions. For operations requiring a variable or custom payload, SKIRON-X has a modular nosecone
design enabling quick payload swaps and custom integrations.

SKIRON-X operations are quick to train, and user-friendly mission planning software makes it easy to
implement mission changes, even during flight. It takes 15 minutes from setup to launch and 10 minutes
to pack out. The air vehicle is FAA PART 107 compliant, providing flexibility to fly in more areas for
testing, training, and data collection.

“At Aurora, we are excited to bring to market a product that is both simple to deploy and highly
capable,” said Mike Caimona, president and CEO. “We are looking forward to supporting our customers
with the customized features and services they need to take SKIRON-X into the field and collect aerial
data that is critical to their mission.”

The first customer for SKIRON-X is Bridger Aerospace. Bridger has purchased two systems and will
deploy them for the 2023 fire season. The SKIRON-X sUAS will complement their growing aviation fleet
to provide data and imagery to help firefighters be more effective and safer.

The SKIRON-X systems were recently delivered to Bridger Aerospace to begin deployment preparations.

Aurora will provide customer support while continuing product development and testing activities to
optimize the product for Bridger and for additional customer use cases.
Learn more about SKIRON-X and download the product information sheet at


Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing Company, advances the future of flight by developing and applying
innovations across aircraft configurations, autonomous systems, propulsion technologies, and
manufacturing processes. With a passionate and agile team, Aurora delivers solutions to its customers’
toughest challenges while meeting high standards of safety and quality. Learn more at

Italy’s First Vertiport Deployed at Fiumicino Airport
Airbus HAPS – Flight Crew operations HAPS Connectivity Solution Ltd.

Flight Crew for Airbus Defence and Space UK Zephyr High Altitude Long Endurance Remotely Piloted Aircraft System Farnborough UK

The Airbus Defence and Space UK Zephyr is a world record-breaking High Altitude Long Endurance solar-electric powered Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) capable of persistent operations in the stratosphere.  

Following our successful test-flying campaigns over the last 3 years we now have opportunities for talented, team-oriented people to join our exciting programme.  We are an inclusive group of aviation professionals who all share a vision to operationalise the stratosphere and if you have suitable transferrable skills, including relevant technical and aviation experience, then this is your chance to apply to join the flight operations team.

We now have multiple positions for flight crew to support our test-flying campaign in 2023. Full training is provided to suitable candidates at our specialist training facility in Farnborough. Successful graduates from our training programme rotate through deployment overseas and our operations centre in the UK. All travel, accommodation and meals are provided when working overseas.

We welcome applications from all backgrounds and experience, although you will need to demonstrate the right to live and work in the UK, as well as have the ability to travel overseas. We are not able to obtain work visas to enable living and working in the UK, although visa support will be provided where required for overseas operations.

This is your opportunity to be part of exciting aviation activity at the leading edge of global RPAS operations.

Description of the Job

This job is inside IR35.

You will be responsible for the safe and effective delivery of Zephyr flight operations as part of a multi-person crew encompassing the following tasks:

  • Flight planning, meteorology, system preparation and airspace management
  • System management and aircraft navigation from a ground control station
  • Working with external stakeholders including air traffic controllers and customers
  • Technical, operations or management tasks according to your individual skillset

Essential Skills and Experience

  • Ability to work well as a member of a team
  • Excellent analytical, interpersonal, verbal and written communications skills
  • Ability to make and implement complex technical risk-based decisions under pressure in a small-team environment
  • Fluent in English to negotiation standard (minimum ICAO Level 4), have the right to live and work in the UK, and be willing and able to deploy overseas for extended periods
  • Competent in Maths and English (minimum GCSE level 5 / C, O’Level / O’Grade level C)
  • Working knowledge of physics
  • Working knowledge of Microsoft Windows(TM) applications
  • Able to meet UK DVLA Group 2 or medical standards or a minimum of Class 3 aviation medical standards from an ICAO contracting state.

Desirable Skills and Experience

  • Aviation or aerospace technical qualifications, including current or previous flight crew, UAS, UAV, RPAS or engineering licenses.
  • Level 3 or higher qualifications in aviation or aerospace, or comparable experience.
  • Aviation experience as flight crew or engineer, either military or civil.
  • Training in, or understanding of, CRM, NOTECHs, TEM policies and practises.
  • An understanding of the technical, operational and environmental factors affecting Zephyr.
  • Beyond line of sight, large RPAS operating experience.

This job requires an awareness of any potential compliance risks and a commitment to act with integrity, as the foundation for the Company’s success, reputation and sustainable growth.

Company: Airbus HAPS Connectivity Solutions Ltd

Contract Type: Permanent Contract / CDI / Unbefristet / Contrato indefinido

Experience Level: Professional / Expérimenté(e) / Professionell / Profesional

Job Family: Testing <JF-EN-ET>

By submitting your CV or application you are consenting to Airbus using and storing information about you for monitoring purposes relating to your application or future employment. This information will only be used by Airbus.
Airbus is committed to achieving workforce diversity and creating an inclusive working environment. We welcome all applications irrespective of social and cultural background, age, gender, disability, sexual orientation or religious belief.

Airbus is, and always has been, committed to equal opportunities for all. As such, we will never ask for any type of monetary exchange in the frame of a recruitment process. Any impersonation of Airbus to do so should be reported to [email protected].

At Airbus, we support you to work, connect and collaborate more easily and flexibly. Wherever possible, we foster flexible working arrangements to stimulate innovative thinking.

Apply here

Topcon and James Roe expand European motorsports journey with race in Monza

Fresh off a class win in the Italian GT Endurance round at Vallelunga, race car driver James Roe Jr. and Topcon Positioning Group continue to expand their participation in European racing. Roe will make an upcoming appearance with Imperiale Racing in the International GT Open round at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza on September 24 – 25 in Italy. He recently competed in two rounds of the Italian GT Endurance Championship, in addition to his IndyLights racing circuit presence in North America.

“I am excited to again race as a partner with Topcon in Europe and to drive the Topcon Lamborghini,” Roe said. A native of Ireland, Roe will be racing in a Lamborghini Huracàn GT3 Evo. “In the construction and precision agriculture sectors that Topcon serves, technology for capturing and managing data is critical for maximum efficiency. I continually make that connection to what I do in racing: data is critical for success.”

Topcon resurfacing technology has been used on major projects involving racetracks, including the renewal of the Silverstone race track in England and the track redesign of the Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi.
“Topcon offers advanced workflow paving technology, and racetracks are an excellent example of the importance of smoothness for safety,” Ulrich Hermanski, CMO and executive vice president for Topcon Positioning Group, said.

“Supporting James in the European racing program is another way that we can show our appreciation for our customers in Europe, and in Italy, as part of this expanded racing program. Topcon has had a long connection with the country, including plans for a newly expanded customer training center at our Concordia facility. We are pleased to bring this program to them with James and wish him the best for this race and beyond.”

More information on Topcon and James Roe is available at

HiTec New Servo Actuator Gives the Precision Required for Commercial and Military-Grade Fixed Wing Drones
HiTec New Servo Actuator Gives the Precision Required for Commercial and Military-Grade Fixed Wing Drones

HiTec new servo actuatorFixed wing drones for endurance missions like mapping and surveillance are increasingly important in both the commercial and government applications.  The HiTec new servo actuator is perfect for commercial and military-grade fixed wing drones, offering outstanding performance.

10mm, Coreless, Wide Voltage, Steel Gear Servo Actuator

Hitec Commercial Solutions as announced their new ultra-precise, magnetic encoder MD141SH and high-resolution D141SH digital wing servo actuators. “Engineered with coreless motors and wide operating voltage ranges, these slim wing servos are the perfect answer for all commercial and military-grade fixed-wing UAS, as well as larger gliders,” says the announcement. “The durable steel gears and 32-bit programmability provide the resilience and precision that critical, tactical missions demand and in-wing applications require.”

HiTec performance specs are verified and tested by both expert engineers, and independent parties.

Both HiTec new servo actuators, the D141SH and the MD141SH share the following – and are perfect for both commercial and military-grade fixed-wing UAS.

Quincy Harbor in Massachusetts. Zero editing besides Auto Exposure Bracketing and combining the three pics to create an HDR.
Drones for Ukraine: Quantum Systems Sends Long Endurance Vectors

drones for Ukraine, Vector, Quantum SystemsGerman Manufacturer Quantum-Systems Will Supply Long Endurance Vector drones for Ukraine

by DRONELIFE Staff Writer Ian M Crosby

German drone manufacturer Quantum-Systems has accepted a commission from the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine for the distribution of the company’s Vector reconnaissance drones.

Continue reading below, or listen:

A portion of the order has already been delivered, with the drones currently seeing active deployment. The remainder of the order is currently in the preparation and processing stage, with delivery planned to take place following the training of Ukrainian forces and drone pilots.

Both parties will consult to clarify the specifics of modalities and logistics of the planned delivery. The necessary training for the operation of the Vector reconnaissance drone typically requires no longer than four days. For the sake of security, no further information regarding the quantity or timing of the arriving drones can be disclosed until after the delivery has occurred.

“It is important to me to be able to supply the Ukrainian army with a system that supports in the defense of their country. Due to the state of emergency on site and thanks to the support of the German Ministry of Defense, we were able to serve and realize the order from Ukraine very quickly. This applies not only to the financing, but also to the coordination of the training services and the export license,” said Quantum-Systems CEO and Co-Founder Florian Seibel, who was deployed for 16 years with the German Armed Forces as a helicopter pilot. “The solidarity with Ukraine and the defense of our common democratic values has led to a much faster procedure than would normally be the case.”

The Vector drone fulfills the Ukrainian Army’s necessary standards for aerial reconnaissance. The long-range reconnaissance drone produces minimal noise emission during flight and provides high-resolution aerial video images through an encrypted data link, granting reliable situational awareness. The model also boasts state-of-the-art digital connectivity, enabling real time communication with other systems and providing increased combat performance for the entire network.

Read more about drones for Ukraine:

Ian attended Dominican University of California, where he received a BA in English in 2019. With a lifelong passion for writing and storytelling and a keen interest in technology, he is now contributing to DroneLife as a staff writer.

Foxtech Newly Released: 2600mm 4hours VTOL - sUAS News - The Business of Drones
Foxtech Newly Released: 2600mm 4hours VTOL – sUAS News – The Business of Drones

BABY SHARK 260 PRO is a high-efficiency VTOL that features 3.3H endurance with 1kg payload, which can be used for survey & mapping, or inspection.

With powerful propulsion system, BABY SHARK PRO can reach Max 3.6H endurance with no payload, 3.3H with 1kg payload. The max take-off weight is 13kg. The max cruising speed can reach 27m/s. The aerodynamic design and smooth surface ensure a low air resistance.

BABY SHARK 260 PRO has two big cabins for batteries and mission payloads. The payload cabin is big enough for loading different task equipment, such as oblique camera, gimbal camera etc. Made of composite material, the whole body is light and strong.

The tail part of BABY SHARK PRO is detachable, which greatly reduces the volume, convenient for transportation. And the vertical tail is also designed as a landing gear, very convenient.

With long flight time and stable flight performance, BABY SHARK PRO VTOL can be used for long-range inspection and ground survey by loading different gimbal cameras or mapping cameras, such as Foxtech 10X zoom cameras, Map-A7R or 3DM V4 oblique camera etc.

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SPH Engineering’s UgCS SkyHub hardware and the LightWare SF30/D
Lockheed Martin Stalker VXE UAS completes a world record 39-hour flight

Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) Skunk Works® demonstrated the expanded endurance capabilities of a specially configured Lockheed Martin Stalker VXE unmanned aerial system (UAS) through a world record endurance flight on Feb. 18, 2022, at the Santa Margarita Ranch in California.

The flight establishes a new record in the Group 2 (5 to <25-kilogram) category with a flight time of 39 hours, 17 minutes and 7 seconds. The flight has been submitted to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the world sanctioning body for aviation records, through its U.S. affiliate, the National Aeronautic Association, for certification.

A production Stalker VXE was modified for this record-setting flight with an external, wing-mounted fuel tank. The flight provided valuable insight for improvements to Stalker VXE aimed at scaling its mission capabilities for the future.

Stalker VXE’s class-leading endurance, broad operating envelope, modular payload compliance, vertical take-off and landing capability, and open system architecture allow it to execute diverse and demanding missions while maintaining a small operational footprint and crew.

To achieve this world record flight time, Lockheed Martin partnered with:

  • Edge Autonomy as a developer and original equipment manufacturer of high-performance unmanned systems, including the Stalker VXE aircraft.
  • Adaptive Energy to develop cutting-edge fuel cell technology, investing in advanced power sources and testing innovative implementation techniques for field operations.
  • Composite Technology Development Inc. to build a lightweight external wing tank.
  • Precision Integrated Programs to provide flight operations support.
  • Clovis Area Modelers to provide FAI official contest directors to continuously monitor and adjudicate the world record flight for ratification. 

For more information on aviation records, the NAA or the FAI, visit or

For additional information about Stalker VXE, visit

About Lockheed Martin
Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs approximately 114,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services. 

Powering Up
Powering Up

Advancements across batteries, solar and hydrogen fuel cells are leading to increased endurance and improved sustainability.

While drones are becoming common tools across a broad spectrum of industries, there are still challenges keeping the technology from meeting its full potential. One of the biggest? Endurance.

Current battery technology only allows for about 20 to 30 minutes of flight time. While that might be sufficient for some use cases, it isn’t for most. It’s a pain point limiting both commercial and military operators, and one that will turn into an even bigger obstacle once BVLOS flights become the norm.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been progress made already. Batteries certainly have evolved over the years, particularly their energy density, and they are the source of power for 95% of commercial drones, according to research and consulting firm Fact.MR. They’ll continue to improve, with new chemistries eventually offering better energy density and higher voltages.

Of course, batteries aren’t the only option. There’s plenty of work being done to develop advanced charging solutions and alternative power sources, with hydrogen fuel cells and solar/battery configurations among them. They all have their pros and cons, but the goal with any power solution is to provide users with the most efficient systems possible. That in turn enables them to “steer their operations in an inexpensive way and to get all the benefits out of using a drone,” said Jason Hardy-Smith, vice president of product for Iris Automation, the San Francisco-based company behind the Casia detect and avoid system.

“Power enables or limits everything we do,” said Phil Robinson, senior director, advanced technologies, of Los Angeles-headquartered Honeywell Aerospace. “We can have all the communications and sense and avoid we need for BVLOS, but if we don’t have enough flight time to get the drone beyond visual line of sight, it doesn’t matter. We need that power to fly, to communicate and to carry our payloads, and we need to do it safely and cost effectively.”

Another benefit of the research being done around power? Many of the advancements positively impact the environment, whether it’s by reducing the number of batteries needed for a mission or decreasing emissions coming from the drone. Great strides are being made in both sustainability and endurance, improving drone efficiencies and making more applications possible.


The Rise of the LiPo Battery

Early on in drone development, batteries were an afterthought. Manufacturers typically relied on simple batteries to operate the system and additional connectors to run the camera, Fact.MR Senior Research Consultant Shambhu Nath Jha explained. As battery technology advanced and operators indicated a need for more flight time, that changed. It became clear drone batteries should have a variety of features, including high discharge rates and a high energy-to-weight ratio.

Most batteries used to power commercial drones are lithium ion (Li-ion), with lithium polymer (LiPo) the most popular, Jha said.

What makes these batteries so attractive? Their high energy density and power-to-weight ratio, Jha said. And unlike Li-Ion batteries, they offer safety from explosion.

Not a Perfect Solution

While LiPo batteries have more circuit protection options available, Jha said, they are still prone to overcharging and over-discharging, which can hurt the drone’s performance and even lead to fires.

electroVolt, a company in Rathdrum, Idaho, that develops application-specific lithium-ion batteries and modules, has addressed this issue with its PRISLogic Lithium-Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries. LiFePO4 cells are less prone to thermal runaway associated with overcharge and lithium plating. The company’s proprietary Thermal Shield Technology offers another layer of protection, improving thermal management, providing distributed pressure on the electrode surface and reducing cell-to-cell fire propagation.

Battery manufacturers are also starting to spend more time on battery management system (BMS) chips, said Matt Carlson, vice president of business development for WiBotic, a Seattle-based company focused on wireless charging solutions. These systems help ensure batteries are properly charged, among other things, again reducing the risk of fire. This improves safety and extends the battery life—a boost to sustainability.

The Future

There’s been a steady increase in battery energy density over the last 10 years, said Jeff Taylor, founder of Event 38 Unmanned Systems, in Richfield, Ohio, with new chemistries helping to improve flight time. These chemistries have changed what’s possible, and it’s only expected to get better.

Over time, different LiPo variations have been introduced, with nickel-manganese cobalt (NMC)-based LiPo batteries the go-to option for drones designed to fly long missions and LFP (Lithium Iron Phosphate)-based Li-Po cells well suited for short missions, Jha said. Li-air and Li-SOCl2 batteries, which account for “nearly seven times and two times higher value of energy density than LiPo batteries,” are emerging, but input cost is keeping them from really taking off. Jha expects lithium sulfur batteries to do well in the future because of their reduced cost and comparatively high energy density.

“The battery manufacturers are focused on tweaking the chemistry,” WiBotic CEO Ben Waters said, “maybe adding magnesium or cobalt, to maximize the energy the battery can hold and discharge.”


Wireless Pads Reliably Extend Battery Life

Keeping batteries charged throughout a mission is another power challenge drone operators face. To get around it, most bring extra battery packs to the field, swapping out batteries as needed—which is often. Not only is this a problem logistically, it’s also expensive. Batteries can take hours to charge, and many drones require more than one, so operators must keep multiple fresh battery packs on hand to get them through longer missions. This also makes it difficult to scale, as adding more drones to the mission requires more batteries and more time spent swapping them out.

Wireless charging stations address this pain point, with the WiBotic power pad able to charge a large quadcopter in less than an hour, Waters said.

Many of the batteries used today don’t have the intelligence to tell operators how much capacity is left in them, Carlson said, which could lead to more batteries being used than necessary—a sustainability issue.

“With our software you can track every charge cycle for every battery and get information on how the battery is performing and accepting charge,” Waters said, noting it also provides updates on charging locations and availability. “When you have 20 batteries in the field, it’s easy to lose track of which is your new battery, and which one has 150 charge cycles. So, people throw batteries away before they should or use them longer than they should—which could lead to a fire or the drone falling out of the sky.”

The pads also regulate the charging process, Carlson said, which in turn extends the battery’s lifespan. If a drone is only needed for a 15-minute flight, the pad can charge it to 80%. This avoids the damage that comes with fully charging, again limiting the need to buy new batteries.

Ultrafast Charging

Early in 2021, Israel’s StoreDot demonstrated ultrafast charging in drones—a feat once considered impossible, CEO Doron Myersdorf said. With this technology, the battery receives a full charge in 5 minutes. How? By replacing the graphite, which is not designed for fast charging, in the lithium-ion battery with silicon to eliminate the explosion risk.

With this process, the drone autonomously enters a pod for a charge and is ready to get back to work within minutes, without human intervention. Fewer batteries and drones are needed to complete a mission, another nod toward sustainability.

Common Infrastructure a Need

Interoperability is becoming a theme in charging, Carlson said, making it important for charging stations to be battery-agnostic. For instance, a soldier may need five different drones, each with its own unique battery. Carrying five battery chargers isn’t feasible, making it key for the units to share common infrastructure such as charging pods. The same could be true for a commercial user who needs to capture different types of data using various drones.

“If drones could send a message when they have 5 minutes of charge left that they’re looking for nearby charging stations,” Carlson said, “and the infrastructure responds with, ‘I’m over here come charge on me,’ that doubles the capacity of the drone fleet whether it’s making deliveries or doing bridge inspections.”


Hydrogen Gaining Steam

Hydrogen fuel cells are starting to garner more attention in the drone world, and it’s easy to see why. Not only do they provide greater endurance than batteries—offering flight durations that are three to five times longer—they’re also zero-emission, Intelligent Energy Aerospace Business Development Manager Jonathan Douglas-Smith said, making them more environmentally friendly than the small combustion engines also used to power drones.

Another advantage over engines? Fuel cells require less maintenance, Event 38’s Taylor said, going for more than 1,000 hours before they need major overhauls. A gas engine demands that kind of attention in as little as 25 hours.

Hydrogen ranks as one of the most “energy dense fuels on the planet,” weighing basically nothing, a key advantage over batteries, Douglas-Smith said. Its cells also last longer than traditional LiPo batteries and only take minutes to refuel, rather than hours to recharge. This reduces time spent in the field and eliminates the need to bring a generator.

Sourcing hydrogen, however, can be difficult, Douglas-Smith said. Intelligent Energy is working to develop a supply chain network to overcome that challenge. Partners in the network will deliver hydrogen cylinders within 72 hours after an order is placed, removing that barrier.

People also aren’t as comfortable working with hydrogen cylinders as they are with swapping out batteries or filling a tank with gas, said Robinson of Honeywell, a company that recently introduced BVLOS UAS technologies that feature hydrogen fuel cells. The cylinders are too heavy to fly, so the hydrogen must be transferred to a lightweight carbon fiber flight tank. Honeywell is working to make this simpler through a tank exchange model, with tanks delivered to operators ready to go.

How it Works

When hydrogen is combined with oxygen, it produces the electricity that powers UAS, said Soonsuk (Fran) Roh, manager of Americas and Oceania business development at Doosan Mobility Innovation (DMI), a company that’s created a hydrogen fuel cell system for drones. DMI recently partnered with Iris Automation to leverage the detect and avoid Casia technology for BVLOS flights.

DMI’s solution doesn’t rely on hydrogen alone, however. It has a small LiPo battery that supports the fuel cell system, say to follow a sudden load change during takeoff or when there’s a gust of wind. The battery might also come into play during an emergency landing.

Intelligent Energy offers a similar configuration.

“The battery provides peak power to the drone when necessary,” Douglas-Smith said. “A battery has a high specific power density, where as a fuel cell has a low specific power density. Combining the two technologies gives us the best of both worlds. The battery will always be able to provide a secondary power source to the UAV, offering that extra layer of redundancy.”

The Sustainability Factor

Producing electricity from hydrogen is a chemical reaction, Roh said, so there’s no combustible process in the system creating emissions. Drones powered by hydrogen aren’t burning gasoline or diesel like other engines, giving them extended flight time without polluting the environment.

Hydrogen is “basically as green as it comes” at the point of use, Douglas-Smith said, with water its only byproduct. The only environmental downside is how hydrogen is created. The most used hydrogen, known as gray hydrogen, is made from petroleum, Robinson said, and produces “considerable carbon impact” when it’s produced. Honeywell is working to expand what’s known as blue hydrogen production. In this process, hydrogen is extracted from natural gas “in a way that lends itself to carbon sequestration.” Carbon is captured at the point of production and stored.

The goal, however, is to get to green hydrogen, Robinson said, which is created through the electrolysis of water using excess solar and wind energy—making it completely green. Solar or wind splits water into hydrogen and oxygen, which then can be bottled and used.

“There are companies scaling right now and growing into the production of green hydrogen, but it requires investing in electrolyzers,” Douglas-Smith said. “Gray hydrogen can be created using existing infrastructure in natural gas plants, so it’s easier and cheaper to create because the infrastructure already exists.”

In Washington state, the Douglas County PUD is producing green hydrogen by electrolysis, said Jacob Leachman, associate professor in the School of Mechanical & Materials Engineering at Washington State University. Installing the electrolyzer made sense because it “so substantially reduced the wear and tear on their dam turbines.” The reduced maintenance costs basically paid for the entire electrolyzer, and now they’re looking to expand the electrolyzer because of “how valuable the hydrogen is compared to electricity.”

Hydrogen also reduces battery use and its impact on the environment. A typical drone battery is discarded after 200 to 300 flights, and only 5% are recycled, Robinson said.


Hydrogen fuel cell powered drones can take on various applications, from border patrol to maritime security to wildlife monitoring, Taylor said. They offer the longer flight times needed to complete these missions as well as the quieter operation that isn’t possible with combustible engines.

Intelligent Energy customers are carrying heavy payloads like LiDAR and radar scanners for missions, Douglas-Smith said. The Danish government, for example, contracted the company to fly a ground penetrating radar scanner to identify underground peat, which is a large source of CO2 emissions when it’s turned up during harvesting. If farmers know about it ahead of time, they can treat the land to prevent emissions. The project will require the drone to scan 100,000 acres of land carrying a payload weighing about 7 kilograms, making the extra flight time the hydrogen fuel cells provide critical.

Soon, Douglas-Smith sees hydrogen fuel cells being used in drone-in-a-box solutions that are beneficial for linear inspections. Instead of drones charging in the boxes, their hydrogen cylinders will be automatically swapped out, with fewer boxes needing to be set up because the drones can travel farther.


Soak up the Sun

Some use cases require days or even months of endurance, and solar/electric powered systems can provide it.

The team at Toronto’s Superwake, for example, is developing a sUAS that has already demonstrated an endurance time of 18 hours, co-founder Travis Krebs said. The next time it flies the goal is to keep it in the air for 55 days.

The aircraft has a 3-meter wingspan and weighs 13.5 kilograms. There are 4.5 kilos of batteries stored in the wing, which can power the plane for about 10 hours, Krebs said. The lightweight solar array is connected to a charge controller that manages how the power is distributed between the batteries, motors and avionics. In ideal conditions, the solar array can draw in 300 watts. The plane only spends 100 to 120 watts to stay in the air, so the batteries charge at a fast rate. Solar powers the plane during the day, and the batteries take over at night.

There are six packs of batteries on the UAS, with 15 cells per pack. A battery-monitoring circuit onboard the plane sends cell voltages back to the ground so users always know the state of charge. It also monitors temperatures.

The aircraft is designed around the solar array, Krebs said, with the wing maximized to fit as much solar as possible. It also flies slower than most drones, and must be angled properly so the sun actually hits the array.

“You can’t just put solar cells on a drone and see multi-day endurance,” he said. “It comes down to how the aircraft is designed, how it flies and how much weight it’s carrying. You need an aircraft design that’s purpose-built to carry solar.”

The Next Level

High-altitude long-endurance (HALE) aircraft like the PHASA-35, developed from a collaboration between BAE Systems and British tech SME Prismatic Ltd, take endurance even further, providing persistent loitering over one location for months.

The PHASA-35 is designed to stay in the stratosphere, at about 60,000 feet, where weather isn’t a concern and the system is powered by the sun, making it a sustainable option, Head of Business Development Phil Varty said. And instead of having to come back for fuel every few days like other systems, it is refueled by the sun and rechargeable batteries.

The lightweight aircraft, which looks like a glider, is made of carbon fiber composite and has a 35-meter wingspan. Thousands of mobile phone-type batteries are assembled together in small groups within the engine pods. This minimizes the need for wires to connect the batteries, creating the least amount of mass, Varty said, which is critical for a system that aims to stay airborne for months.

And of course, the batteries must be reliable, so rather than drawing on the latest technologies that aren’t completely understood yet, the PHASA-35 team opted for off the shelf mature batteries that are available in large quantities. The solar cells used to charge the batteries, on the other hand, are top of the line. It’s key for the aircraft to get the highest solar power possible, and that’s what these provide.

Environmentally Focused Applications

In terms of sustainability, solar-powered aircraft don’t give off greenhouse gas emissions, including in the manufacturing process, Krebs said. And Varty noted that because they’re staying in the air for long periods of time, it avoids the need to create significant ground infrastructure required for refuelling or to deal with the maintenance issues.

There’s also another environmental benefit, though indirect. Long-endurance aircrafts can take ecological and conservation-focused missions that other UAS can’t.

For example, Krebs said, such aircraft can be used to identify and detect forest fires early, preventing them from emitting CO2 into the atmosphere.

“The system gives us the ability to watch something minute by minute and predict what will happen for things like pollution control and forest fires,” Varty said. “You can then put people and resources where they need to be at the right time.”

Moving Forward

While the power challenge isn’t going away anytime soon, there’s plenty of research and product development being done to address it. The options will only continue to grow as we move into the next commercial drone phase, which will include routine BVLOS flights. Sustainability will also continue to be a focus, with greener solutions moving to reduce concerns such as fossil fuel emissions and improper battery disposal.

“When new technology comes out there’s always a rush to deploy it; then shortly thereafter there’s this need to optimize it,” Waters of WiBotic said. “We’re coming up on the need to optimize. What people are doing with drones is providing tremendous value, but now that we’re using the technology regularly we have to find ways to save money and do it more efficiently.”