Ballard Power Systems’ subsidiary Protonex powered test flights of a ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with the company’s proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell propulsion system. The ScanEagle is manufactured by Boeing subsidiary Insitu.

“These test flights have successfully demonstrated the integration and operation of our fuel cell propulsion system as well as the high-pressure hydrogen fuel tank,” says Paul Osenar, president of Protonex. “The tests also documented acoustic footprint reduction that will enable mission routes that take the ScanEagle closer to its targets. In addition, test flights confirm that our fuel cell propulsion system offers power during flight that can be used to support greater payload diversity.”

Fuel cells offer up to 5x improvement in the expected mean time between failures (MTBF) compared to traditional internal combustion systems, silent operation, mid-air start-stop capability, and use of existing JP8 fuel in ground refueling systems.

Insitu CTO Peter Kunz says the company hopes to offer all-electric power and propulsion options for Insitu platforms. Now in developmental testing, the Protonex fuel cell system has exceeded power requirements and has integrated well with UAS systems and operations.

ScanEagle is 1.55m (5.1ft) in length, has a wingspan of 3.1m (10.2ft), and maximum takeoff weight of 22kg (48.5 lb). The ScanEagle can fly at a maximum speed of 41.2m/s (80kts), reach a ceiling of 5,944m (19,500ft), and has an endurance capability of more than 24-hours. www.ballard.com; www.insitu.com

Indago achieves beyond visual line of sight inspection

Lockheed Martin, in partnership with Canadian UAVs, completed the first beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) pipeline and wellhead inspection using the Lockheed Martin Indago 2 quadrotor. The quadrotor completed the inspection at the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) testing facility in Foremost, Alberta, Canada. The Indago’s camera captured high-resolution inspection images and video with 30x optical and enhanced digital zoom.

Indago is Transport Canada compliant, giving Indago operators approved access to Canadian airspace.

“Our systems routinely fly beyond line of sight for our military customers, which has allowed us to gain compliance status with Transport Canada for use in commercial airspace,” says John Molberg, business development lead for Lockheed Martin CDL Systems.

The Indago quadrotor weighs 5 lb and has approximately 45 minutes of endurance, achieving ranges of up to 5km when operated using its handheld controller. The range can be extended beyond 10km with directional communications devices. www.lockheedmartin.com/unmanned

FAA reviews court decision on drone registration

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is reviewing a U.S. Court of Appeals decision that struck down a 2015 FAA rule that compelled owners of small unmanned aerial systems (drones) used for recreation to register them. Registering through the online system cost $5 and required a name, email, and physical address. Users also had to acknowledge that they would follow basic safety guidelines, including flying below 400ft; staying clear of stadiums, aircraft, airports, and emergency response efforts; and not flying drunk.

An FAA statement reads, “We are in the process of considering our response to the decision as well as any registration implications for non-commercial users.”

The plaintiff, John Taylor, an attorney from Silver Spring, Maryland, owns about 20 quadcopters, hexacopters, and fixed-wing planes. Taylor told a Washington Post reporter, “it was about more than five bucks. It was the idea of government overreach.”

Taylor argued that the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act provides that the FAA “may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft,” with model aircraft defined as unmanned aircraft flown for recreational purposes. The FAA’s 2015 drone registration is a rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft. “Statutory interpretation does not get much simpler,” the court opinion states, vacating the requirement.

During its review, the FAA asks the public to check its website regularly for further updates and instructions. “In the meantime, we encourage registration for all drone operators,” the statement reads. www.faa.gov/uas; https://goo.gl/pEzKrZ.