The fuel cell electric propulsion system onboard the Ion Tiger has the low noise and heat signature of a battery-powered UAV, while taking advantage of the high energy content of hydrogen. The Ion Tiger weighs approximately 17 kg (37 lb), and carries a 1.8–2.3 kg (4–5 lb) payload.
The 550 W (0.75 hp) fuel cell onboard the Ion Tiger has about four times the efficiency of a comparable internal combustion engine. The fuel cell system provides seven times the energy in the equivalent weight of batteries.
The Ion Tiger fuel cell system development team is led by the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and includes Protonex Technology Corporation, HyperComp Engineering, and Arcturus UAV. The program is sponsored by the Office of Naval Research.
This latest flight test improves on Ion Tiger’s previous unofficial flight endurance record of 23 hours and 17 minutes, which took place in early October.
NRL has now demonstrated that polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell technology can meet or surpass the performance of traditional power systems, providing reliable, quiet operation and extremely high efficiency. Next steps will focus on increasing the power of the fuel cell to 1.5 kW (2 hp), to enable tactical flights and extend flight times to three days while powering tactical payloads.