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PROJECT FOR AN UNMANNED AIRPLANE WITH ZERO EMISSIONS TO CROSS THE SOUTH ATLANTIC

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The Mermoz Drone project, initiated by a team of researchers at ISAE-SUPAERO’s aerodynamics laboratory, has the ambition to participate in the development of breakthrough technologies for electric aviation. Crossing the South Atlantic with an unmanned aircraft with an approximately 4-meter wingspan using hydrogen propulsion would be a first step toward the development of larger low-carbon airplanes for air transport.

AN EXPLORATORY PROJECT

Given the physical limits involved in electric fuel cell flights, a team of researchers and students headed by Professor Jean-Marc Moschetta has been working on designing a small unmanned aircraft using electric propulsion without greenhouse gas emissions during flight. “This is an exploratory project that fits in perfectly with the breakthrough technologies aviation needs,” said the specialist who coordinates drone research activities at the Institute.

DroneMermoz
Drone Mermoz

Initiated at the start of the year, the experimentation phase will be an opportunity to produce a demonstrator with a 4-meter wingspan for in-flight testing and validation of all the technological building blocks. A first drone design is currently taking form, with the calculations of its aerodynamics being finely studied to provide it with all the capacities and qualities needed to cover a distance of over 3,000 kilometers.

LIQUID HYDROGEN: A CLEAN ALTERNATIVE

ISAE-SUPAERO is working with H3 Dynamics, which produces and markets hydrogen fuel cells. Through the work undertaken by its subsidiary, HES Energy Systems, the company is developing sophisticated expertise in the production and integration of hydrogen energy systems for robotic and airborne applications. The use of a hydrogen fuel cell makes it possible to use a fully electric propulsion chain, as the hydrogen stored in gas or liquid form is transformed into electricity. This technology has been widely tested in flight in recent years. The choice of the storage method depends on the mission’s profile.

A real technological breakthrough, the use of liquid hydrogen seeks to solve the problem of the low energy density of the lithium batteries used on conventional drones, seriously limiting the aircraft’s in-flight autonomy. Electric propulsion with liquid hydrogen storage could provide more than 6 times more energy per unit of mass than electric propulsion using conventional batteries and would only emit water vapor during flight.

A DRONE FOLLOWING IN MERMOZ’S FOOTSTEPS

The researchers want to show that crossing the South Atlantic from Senegal to Brazil in the footsteps of Jean Mermoz is possible with an unmanned aircraft system powered by a hydrogen fuel cell and capable of flying very long distances. The project also includes a serious constraint – being light enough to be included in the French certification category permitting flight beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS). That is the goal for 2023! A second major objective is also targeted – “Mermoz” could be the first tangible cornerstone laid for the low-carbon aviation of the future.

This project has received support from the Occitanie Region and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), as well as from the ISAE-SUPAERO Foundation which, thanks to the donors of the Inter-Promotion Class Gift, gathered funds to contribute to the purchase of equipment to get the demonstrator flying. Actions to find financing are still needed to carry out all the activities.

TWO RESEARCH PROFESSORS PUBLISH A BOOK ON DRONES

Introduction to mini-drone control: from design to implementation – modelling, identification and summary of control laws.

Author(s): Joël Bordeneuve-Guibé (ISAE-SUPAERO), Yves Brière (ISAE-SUPAERO), Jean-Philippe Condomines and Thierry Miquel – Editions Ellipses

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