Packet Digital and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) have performed a successful first test flight of their jointly developed long-endurance Unmanned Aerial System (UAS).
The fixed-wing, hybrid UAS utilizes solar panels installed on the wings, autonomous soaring algorithms, and hydrogen fuel cell technology to create a new class of small UAS with the ability to stay in flight for over two days.
The fixed-wing drone successfully completed the first phase of operational testing at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland in late November 2020.
“It was an honor for us to partner with NRL and the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Operational Energy Capability Improvement Fund (OECIF) on this project,” said Terri Zimmerman, CEO of Packet Digital. “We specialize in creating efficient power management systems, specifically for the UAS market. The opportunity to work on a multi-day UAS with NRL allowed us to demonstrate the extent of our capabilities, ranging from power management, to solar integration, to general UAS development.”
OECIF funds energy innovations that improve Department of Defense (DoD) operational effectiveness with targeted investments aligned with the DoD Operational Energy Strategy.
By utilizing multiple technologies, including photovoltaics, hydrogen fuel cells, autonomous soaring algorithms, and highly efficient energy and powertrain management, the 2+ day UAS targets ‘Third-Offset’ requirements adopted by the DoD. Additionally, a ‘Pacific Pivot’ requires these drones to be able to operate for extended periods of time over blue-water, and to utilize the geographical area’s abundance of solar energy.
“The multi-day drone required an integration of all of today’s leading technologies,” said Zimmerman. “Seeing the results of this project highlights the flight endurance capabilities that are possible today, and it’s exciting to envision what it means for the industry going forward.”