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Adaptive Materials and Michigan students set record fuel-cell-powered UAV flight

14th November 2008 - 06:33 GMT | by The Shephard News Team


The longest fuel cell powered flight of a radio-controlled aerial vehicle has been achieved by students at the University of Michigan and engineers at Ann Arbor-based fuel cell manufacturer Adaptive Materials, Inc.

Their plane, named Endurance, flew for 10 hours, 15 minutes and 4 seconds in a flight that lasted from sunrise to sunset on Oct. 30, 2008 at Field of Dreams Park in Milan, Mich. The previous world record, held by a California-based company, lasted just over 9 hours.

The student SolarBubbles team built the airframe, which has an 8-foot wingspan. Adaptive Materials funded the project and built the aerial vehicle's propane-powered solid oxide fuel cell. The Adaptive Materials fuel cell for the aerial vehicle was a hybrid battery system.

"It's great to be at the forefront of aerial vehicles," said Nick Rooney, a senior aerospace engineering undergraduate who is leader of SolarBubbles. "I'm really excited about this and proud of all the people who have worked on it."

Adaptive Materials has worked extensively in the air vehicle space, and will work with SolarBubbles to achieve a 20-hour test flight.

"It's critical for unmanned aerial vehicles to have extended flight times to provide the functionality needed for military missions," said Michelle Crumm, chief business officer at Adaptive Materials. "The flight time achieved with the SolarBubbles team surpassed any of Adaptive Materials' previous work with aerial vehicles and shows that we're just scratching the surface for what's possible with a lightweight, reliable fuel cell."

Endurance had enough fuel to fly for five more hours, but it had to land at dusk because it wasn't made to fly at night.

The plane flew almost 99 miles over the course of the day as students took turns flying it in a holding pattern.

The SolarBubbles team designs, builds and tests unmanned aircraft. In addition to this fuel cell project, students are working to build a solar-powered unmanned aircraft with a wingspan smaller than 15 feet that can fly for more than 36 hours

About Adaptive Materials, Inc.
Based in Ann Arbor, Mich., Adaptive Materials is the leader in fuel cell innovations. At the forefront of portable power innovation, Adaptive Materials is the first company to develop, demonstrate and deliver a portable, affordable, and fuel flexible solid oxide fuel cell system. Unlike other fuel cells, Adaptive Materials' systems are powered by lightweight, inexpensive and globally available propane. Adaptive Materials' fuel cell system provides portable power to the United States Armed Forces as well as industries including recreational vehicles, boating, and medical devices. For more information, visit

Michigan Engineering:
The University of Michigan College of Engineering is ranked among the top engineering schools in the country. At more than $130 million annually, its engineering research budget is one of largest of any public university. Michigan Engineering is home to 11 academic departments and a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center. The college plays a leading role in the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute and hosts the world class Lurie Nanofabrication Facility. Michigan Engineering's premier scholarship, international scale and multidisciplinary scope combine to create The Michigan Difference. Find out more at


The Shephard News Team


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