AeroVironment Inc. announced Tuesday that it has successfully flown at Edwards Air Force Base its Global Observer drone, a hydrogen-fuel-powered unmanned aircraft sporting a 175-foot wingspan and one-week-long endurance. The aircraft’s internal-combustion engine burns cryogenically stored liquid hydrogen, leaving water vapor for exhaust. That system powers a generator that delivers electricity to the aircraft’s four wing-mounted motors. The aircraft is being developed to serve as a surveillance and communication link platform, while flying mostly at 65,000 feet. In surveillance roles, the company says the aircraft’s endurance could translate to coverage of 280,000 square miles per flight. In its test flight, the aircraft flew for four hours at about 3,000 feet.
The $30 million aircraft was developed from a Pentagon program and testing is expected to see it flying at its design altitude of 65,000 feet by year-end. If successful, the military hopes to see the aircraft perform its comm-link and surveillance roles where cost or other variables prevent the use of satellite. At altitude, the aircraft is expected to be out of range of most surface-to-air missiles and capable of providing comm-link capabilities over a 600-mile diameter.