AeroVironment, Inc., the aviation company responsible for a line of successful military-based unmanned drones, has added to its reputation by creating and testing its first Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) to run on hydrogen fuel - the first of its kind anywhere.
Measuring in at a large 175 foot long wingspan, the Global Observer unmanned drone circled over Edwards Air Force Base in Los Angeles County January 6, 2011, the first full-scale flight of the ship. Engineers, technicians and other watchers kept a strict eye on the observation unit as it sailed over the base during a four hour test of its capabilities.
Perhaps most significant to note about the Global Observer is its internal combustion engine, which burns liquid hydrogen to keep the plane aloft by powering four wing-mounted engines. This process creates nothing more than water vapor, which is environmentally harmless and may prove a major aeronautical turning point for those opposed to the contrails created by most modern aircraft, not to mention their conspiracy theory chemtrail brethren.
The Global Observer represents a significant jump forward in unmanned espionage equipment for the United States military. At full operational strength, the Global Observer will be capable of surveying 280,000 square miles - a span of land larger than many countries - on a single trip, staying aloft for a full week. Most current spy planes can remain in the sky for little more than a day before being forced back to Earth to refuel.
According to the Los Angeles Times, AeroVironment Chairman and Chief Executive Timothy Conver has lauded the steady movement of the Global Observer from testing to field deployment, adding that he hopes to see the plane flying at 65,000 feet, which keeps it safe from most anti-aircraft missile systems that might bring it down. He added that the plane's environmentally-friendly engine makes it the airborne equivalent of a Prius, a hybrid electric car that's often touted as one of the cleanest on the road.
The Global Observer is unique among AeroVironment's lineup of ships, which typically include hand-launched drones no larger than model airplanes. Unlike the long-range Global Observer, these tiny drones are used by soldiers in war zones for monitoring small plots of upcoming terrain for enemy units, traps or other potential problems.
Though the Global Observer's first hydrogen flight took place in January, the plane has been recorded during other test flights that can be viewed here. For a graphical explanation of its capabilities, please see this video.