WSU Engineers are developing unmanned airplanes

PULLMAN, WA - The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Club at Washington State University has spent countless hours building and flying unmanned aerial vehicles, and they're currently developing one that's powered by liquid hydrogen.

Engineers at Washington State University are making a name for themselves in the unmanned aerial vehicle industry.

"Unmanned aerial vehicle or unmanned aerial system is the more modern term, I guess," said WSU Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Jake Leachman.

"More and more applications arise as researchers see what these planes can do," said WSU Graduate Student Chris Chaney.

"There's a lot of interest from farmers, agriculture," said Leachman.

"Wildfire monitoring is a good one," said Chaney.

"Really this vehicle is going to end up saving a lot of people money, and maybe even saving people's lives," said Leachman.

The newest UAV to come out of WSU is a 55-pound battery-powered plane called "GENII."

"'Pondus Hydrogenii' is the potential of hydrogen in Latin," said WSU Research Assistant Justin Bahrami. "So that's where the name came from."

"I do get to fly it," said Chaney. "And I don't have to do very much work because it's really easy. The plane flies great, and when it's not flying great, the auto-pilot is flying it, so I get to take off and land and that's about it."

"It sat as a box of parts for many, many months," said Bahrami. "We finally got it together, we got it up in the air and it was beautiful. It really flew."

Now that they know the plane can fly using battery power, they're shifting their focus to hydrogen power.

"This is an end-cap for the hydrogen system in the plane," said WSU Graduate of Mechanical Engineering Eric Barrow.

"The real research value in this airplane is that we're integrating liquid hydrogen into it, and that's a really novel thing that no university has done," said Bahrami.

"Hydrogen is an incredibly clean fuel, also has a lot of energy per weight," said Leachman.

"But it's hard to get that energy out," said Chaney. "So we have a PM fuel cell that converts that hydrogen and oxygen from the air into power."

"So this will be the next big step in our plane," said Barrow.

This project was funded by alumni gifts, and it took about 10 mechanical and electrical engineering students a year to put the plane together. They anticipate working on the hydrogen component for another couple months.