UTRC pioneers fuel cell powered rotorcraft flight with model helicopter

Connecticut-based United Technologies Research Center (UTRC) recently achieved the first flight of a hydrogen/air fuel cell powered rotorcraft. The successful technology demonstration was accomplished using a remote-controlled model electric helicopter, modified to incorporate a custom proton-exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell power plant.

The pioneering helicopter flight, using a high power density PEM fuel cell, took place on October 11, on the East Hartford campus of UTRC, the central research and innovation arm of United Technologies Corporation.

The remote-controlled helicopter, originally designed to run on batteries, had a rotor diameter of 2 m and a takeoff weight of 10 kg. The helicopter is capable of carrying a 5 lb (2.3 kg) payload.

The fuel cell powered flight lasted approximately 20 minutes, but the UTRC team plans to demonstrate longer helicopter flight durations in the future.

The helicopter power plant is a PEM fuel cell prototype developed by UTRC, and based on proprietary fuel cell technology from UTC Power. The maximum output power of the fuel cell was 1.75 kW, with the system power density exceeding 500 W/kg.

The hydrogen was stored in a 4200 psi (290 bar) pressurized tank. In the self-sustaining system, the fuel cell power plant automatically starts with the supply of hydrogen. There are no additional batteries.

‘Achieving vertical flight represents a key milestone in fuel cell powered flight, as the power density requirements are much greater than for fixed wing aircraft,’ says Dr David Parekh, Vice President for Research, and UTRC Director. ‘In addition, this environmentally friendly power system produces zero pollution, zero emissions of greenhouse gases, and operates with very low noise.’

Share this article

More services


This article is featured in:
Energy storage including Fuel cells



cjzurcher said

28 November 2009
It looks like United Technologies is going to be the innovator and the originator in fuel cell-powered flight. I can't wait to see their next excursion into this area.

Note: The majority of comments posted are created by members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those Elsevier Ltd. We are not responsible for any content posted by members of the public or content of any third party sites that are accessible through this site. Any links to third party websites from this website do not amount to any endorsement of that site by the Elsevier Ltd and any use of that site by you is at your own risk. For further information, please refer to our Terms & Conditions.