Johns Hopkins University, SolAero partner on solar wing design

Departments - Up and Soaring

Glimpse of unmanned refueling aircraft; Ballard launches next generation fuel cell system; GA-ASI demos SATCOM MQ-9B launch, recovery.

February 27, 2018

SolAero Technologies Corp. (SolAero), a provider of high efficiency solar cells and composite structural products for aerospace applications, has won a contract from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) to develop an integrated solar wing for the AeroVironment Puma unmanned aerial system (UAS). Fabricated with SolAero’s advanced, high-efficiency solar cells integrated onto a ruggedized composite structure, the solar wing has the same form, fit, function, and mass equivalent to the standard wing on the Puma. SolAero’s solar wing will enable extended range, increased payload power, and enhanced persistence in multiple engagement scenarios for Puma users. Flight testing and field validation will be performed in early 2018.

SolAero and its subsidiary Alliance Spacesystems (Alliance) developed the prototype under a joint Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with APL and a DOD customer. SolAero’s prototype Puma solar wing generated power equal to engineering estimates during flight tests at Yuma Proving Grounds (YPG) in mid-2017.

SolAero and Alliance have now successfully demonstrated solar wing design and fabrication capabilities on three UAS platforms.;;;

Glimpse of unmanned refueling aircraft

Boeing’s Phantom Works is showing its entry in the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) MQ-25 competition for refueling U.S. Navy jets operating from aircraft carriers. The Navy is seeking unmanned refueling capabilities that would extend the combat range of deployed Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler, and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters. The MQ-25 will also have to seamlessly integrate with a carrier’s catapult, launch, and recovery systems.

The UAS is completing engine runs before heading to deck handling demonstrations later this year.

The Navy issued its final request for proposals in October, 2017. Proposals were due Jan. 3, 2018.

Ballard launches next generation fuel cell system

Ballard Power Systems has developed a next-generation, high-performance fuel cell propulsion system to power unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The company received a follow-on contract from Boeing subsidiary Insitu for extended durability testing of next-generation 1.3kW fuel cell propulsion systems powering ScanEagle UAV test flights.

The next-generation fuel cell propulsion system offers increased power density resulting from a new membrane electrode assembly (MEA) design, reduced cost from a combination of new MEA and one-step fuel cell stack sealing process, and extended lifetime.

ScanEagle is 5.1ft (1.55m) long, has a 10.2ft (3.11m) wingspan, and maximum takeoff weight of 48.5 lb (22kg). The UAV can fly at a maximum speed of 80kts (41.2m/sec) and reach a ceiling of 19,500ft (5,944m).

GA-ASI demos SATCOM MQ-9B launch, recovery

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) recently demonstrated its latest automatic takeoff and landing capability (ATLC) using a satellite communications (SATCOM) data link for its MQ-9B SkyGuardian/SeaGuardian remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). The demonstration also included the first SATCOM taxi of the MQ-9B. This capability will eliminate the need for a ground control station (GCS) and pilot/flight crew at the aircraft’s base.

The MQ-9B’s supervisory crew and GCS operated out of the company’s Gray Butte Flight Operations Center near Palmdale, California, and the aircraft was flown out of Laguna Army Airfield near Yuma, Arizona. Requiring trained RPA aircrew only at the GCS location reduces the RPA’s operating cost and enables rapid self-deployment to any global runway with a Global Positioning System (GPS) surveyed file.