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CHIPS Articles: NRL’s Hybrid Tiger UAV Soars at Demonstration

NRL’s Hybrid Tiger UAV Soars at Demonstration
By Nicholas Pasquini, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory - April 16, 2021
WASHINGTON, – U.S. Naval Research Laboratory engineers recently demonstrated Hybrid Tiger, an electric unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with multi-day endurance flight capability, at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland.

The team integrated technologies developed in prior NRL power and energy programs into a single UAV to achieve multi-day endurance with a Group 2 UAV. Group 2 UAVs are typically in the 21-55 pound weight class and normally operate below 3,500 feet above ground level at speeds less than 250 knots.

This was the first time Hybrid Tiger flew through a complete 24-hour period, its longest flight to date.

“Extrapolating the flight endurance of Hybrid Tiger from the recent flight data suggests it can reach the program goal flight endurance,” said Richard Stroman, Ph.D., a mechanical engineer from the NRL Chemistry Division. “The results validated our extensive simulation efforts, because the flight endurance is almost exactly what was predicted by our simulation.”

Flight simulations suggested flight endurances predicted for summer conditions are realistic at lower latitudes and with greater solar energy.

“The flight was effectively a performance test in worst-case conditions: temperatures falling below zero degrees Celsius, winds gusting to 20 knots, and relatively little solar energy as we approached the solar solstice Dec. 21,” Stroman said. “Despite all of that, Hybrid Tiger performed well.”

New solar-integrated wings provided daytime power and supplement a redesigned power management system.

“This power management system hybridizes solar energy with other on-board energy sources including battery-electric and a hydrogen fuel cell in a light-weight form factor, suitable for airborne craft, as well as ground-based unmanned systems,” said Stearns Heinzen, Ph.D., an aerospace engineer from NRL Tactical Electronic Warfare Division.

The program’s researchers are also developing energy-aware power management algorithms, which vary operational modes and generate a vehicle navigation strategy based on weather forecasts and locally observed opportunities for energy harvesting.

Autonomous soaring, for example, is used to gain altitude from thermal updrafts when they are available. Hybrid Tiger combines multiple power sources with different advantages to achieve extreme endurance. A high-pressure hydrogen fuel tank and fuel cell system provides nighttime power. High-efficiency photovoltaics provide power during daylight hours.

“Autonomous soaring and energy-aware guidance algorithms help maximize energy extraction and minimize energy loss,” Stroman said. “The use of hydrogen fuel not only enables long endurance; it also makes it possible to produce fuel locally.”

Hybrid Tiger was developed and demonstrated with Department of Defense needs in mind, yet its technologies are also valuable for non-defense scientific applications such as atmospheric research and commercial applications.

The NRL Alternative Energy Section and Vehicle Research Section researchers plan to demonstrate the maximum endurance of Hybrid Tiger later this spring, demonstrating a two plus day flight endurance with a payload while consuming no logistics fuel.

Hybrid Tiger was developed as a complete system that can be transitioned directly to industry; however, its technologies can also be used individually to improve the performance of other unmanned systems.

The Hybrid Tiger program is a 6.3 Advanced Technology Development project sponsored by the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Operational Energy Capability Improvement Fund and the Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office (E2O).

Its component technologies are available for license to companies with interest in commercial applications and collaborative partnership opportunities.

For additional information, contact the NRL Office of Technology Transfer at techtran@nrl.navy.mil

About the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory
NRL is a scientific and engineering command dedicated to research that drives innovative advances for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps from the seafloor to space and in the information domain. NRL is located in Washington, D.C. with major field sites in Stennis Space Center, Mississippi; Key West, Florida; Monterey, California, and employs approximately 2,500 civilian scientists, engineers and support personnel.

U.S. Naval Research Laboratory engineers demonstrate Hybrid Tiger, an electric unmanned aerial vehicle with multi-day endurance flight capability at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, Nov. 18. This was the first time Hybrid Tiger flew through a complete diurnal cycle, a 24-hour period of day and night, and its longest flight to date. Photo by Jonathan Steffen / U.S. Naval Research Laboratory
U.S. Naval Research Laboratory aerospace engineers carry Hybrid Tiger, an electric unmanned aerial vehicle with multi-day endurance flight capability, to the launch location at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, Nov. 18. The Hybrid Tiger team is integrating technologies developed in prior NRL power and energy programs into a single UAV to achieve multi-day endurance with a Group 2 UAV. Photo by Jonathan Steffen / U.S. Naval Research Laboratory
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