NRL looks to solar technology to power UAVs

SUNNYVALE, Calif. U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) researchers will use Alta Devices' solar technology to help power the Hybrid Tiger unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

The Hybrid Tiger program integrates multiple technologies into a single UAV designed for long range endurance. It will use flexible solar cells, a hydrogen fuel cell, and energy-aware guidance algorithms. The program is sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy and the U. S. Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office.

The Hybrid Tiger is a project designed to create a Group-2 UAV that will stay aloft for at least 3.5 days. Technologies developed for the project will be applicable to other unmanned vehicles.

The Hybrid Tiger UAV planned demonstration includes flights over multiple days, during the winter solstice and as far North as 50 degrees latitude to highlight how extreme endurance UAV flight can be achieved using hybridization of solar photovoltaics, a hydrogen fuel cell, and autonomous soaring algorithms, regardless of latitude or time of year.

The aircraft will fly for multiple days without using traditional fuels. The multi-day endurance technology will enable applications such as low altitude communications enablement, atmospheric research, and search and rescue missions, according to a fact sheet provided by NRL.

“Widespread use of small UAVs in both the military and industry has been limited to-date by endurance. The Hybrid Tiger will demonstrate that very long endurance flights, with sophisticated telemetry and capabilities, can be achieved with the inclusion of solar arrays,” says Jian Ding, Alta Devices CEO.