The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is planning to develop a fuel cell version of its Long Endurance Modular UAV (LEMU) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), in addition to its electric and internal combustion variants, which are due to fly in 2018.
This is according to the CSIR’s John Monk, who said at the fourth Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) user forum on 29 November that the CSIR hopes to fly the LEMU in February 2018. Avionics integration is scheduled for this December. The electric version will fly first, followed some time later by the internal combustion variant. Development of the fuel cell version will follow later.
One of LEMU’s selling points is its interchangeable payload pod, which can accommodate different payloads for different missions, such as surveillance, agriculture, surveying and mapping etc. The pod has a 20 kg payload capability and in addition can also accommodate fuel for extra range.
Based on the original Modular UAV, the internal combustion engine version of LEMU is powered by two DLE 55RA engines fitted with fuel injection systems. These are being tested on the CSIR’s small engine test rigs, which are designed to gather test data on small UAV engines.
The CSIR’s Duncan Higgs said there is very little performance or reliability data on small UAV engines. As a result, the CSIR has built two engine test rigs. One has recently been used in the wind tunnel to test the internal combustion engine of the LEMU fitted with its alternator and engine cowling.
Due to the lack of reliable information in the public domain, Higgs said the UAV Engine Association of South Africa has been established and is open to anyone working with 5-20 hp engines.
LEMU is an extended range version of the original CSIR Modular UAV research platform, which first flew in 2009. The Internal Combustion variant has a takeoff weight of 65 kg with a payload of up to 20 kg excluding fuel. Maximum speed is around 170 km/h and maximum climb rate is 750 feet/minute. Endurance would be up to eight hours dependent on payload. The Electric variant has an estimated top speed of 140 km/h and endurance of up to two hours with a 20 kg payload.
LEMU was displayed at the UAS user forum last month, along with the CSIR’s other operational UAV, the Indiza. Indiza is a two metre span, hand launched, rugged mini-UAV. The Indiza airframe can house a number of generic camera and electronic intelligence pods. The Indiza UAV has been demonstrated in a series of joint CSIR/South African National Defence Force border safeguarding exercises.
Also at the UAV forum, Dr Lelanie Smith from the University of Pretoria gave an update on the AREND (Aircraft for Rhino and ENvironmental Defence) UAV programme. The 18 kg UAV should fly for the first time around February next year. It is being developed by a team made up of students from the University of Colorado, University of Pretoria (fuselage, camera gimbal, landing and launch systems, integration), the University of Stuttgart in Germany, and the Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences.
Several UAVs were on display at the forum, including Paramount’s Civet, a prototype Paramount unmanned surface vessel, and a UAV from Aerial Monitoring Solutions (AMS). The CSIR also gave a demonstration of its Cmore situational awareness tool and its UAV simulator.