A researcher injects hydrogen fuel into a remote-controlled plane before a test flight at KAIST in Daejeon, Tuesday. The university team said that the two-kilogram plane can fly for as long as 10 hours without refueling. / Courtesy of KAIST
By Cho Jin-seo
Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) said Tuesday that its researchers have developed a fueling system for light-weight unmanned planes that enable up to 10 hours of flight without refueling.
The research is expected to open the door for developing small and cheap unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for military or civilian purposes. The United States and several other countries have made UAVs available for military purposes but they are usually bulky and very costly to operate.
The plane weighs two kilograms, and can fly up to 10 hours using only 500 grams of liquefied hydrogen fuel, said Kwon Se-jin, the professor who is leading the research. They did a short test flight for TV cameras at the KAIST football field in Daejeon, Tuesday, in which the plane made several acrobatic maneuvers such as ``rolls'' and ``loops,'' using a radio controller.
``Since it has to be manually controlled, we could fly it for less than one hour each time. But on the ground test, we succeeded running the propeller for more than five hours,'' Kwon said. ``We have almost completed the automatic pilot system, and with that it will be able to fly between five to 10 hours.''
The United States currently leads in UAV technologies. Its Air Force and Marine Corps are currently operating many UAVs such as the Predator, Reaper and Dragon Eye, used in reconnaissance and bombing missions in Iraq and elsewhere.
Kwon hopes that his KAIST team will be able to develop a commercial UAV within two years. All they need is proper funding and they will be glad to have foreign partners in further developing the project, he said.