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Protonex wins USAF award to extend aerial vehicle propulsion

Massachusetts-based Protonex Technology has received a $265,000 contract from the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) for advanced development of high-performance fuel cell systems for small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). This award expands on a series of efforts by Protonex to miniaturize fuel cells for use in smaller UAVs.

Protonex Technology company recently won a $3.3m US Department of Defense contract to develop a robust, deployable pre-production fuel cell power system for small UAVs. Under the terms of this new AFRL contract, Protonex will integrate a miniaturized, high-performance fuel cell system into a Raven UAV from its California-based development partner AeroVironment, to demonstrate first flight capabilities for this aircraft under fuel cell power. The resulting UAV, powered by the Protonex fuel cell system, would be targeted at longer-duration mission capabilities.

AeroVironment’s Raven is a battle-proven, lightweight UAV designed for rapid deployment and high mobility for both military and commercial applications. With a wingspan of 1.4 m (4.5 ft) and a weight of 1.9 kg (4.2 lb), the hand-launched Raven provides aerial observation, day or night, at line-of-sight ranges up to 10 km (6 miles).

The advanced fuel cell power system designed for this smaller UAV is a scaled-down version of a system that was previously integrated into AeroVironment’s Puma UAV platform. By incorporating a Protonex power system, the Puma UAV was able to demonstrate three to four times the flight endurance capability of advanced batteries.

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