12 Hour Flight Time | Methanol Powered Drones

  • Developers of FY-36 say they overcame ‘tons of problems’ to create alcohol-fuelled battery that allows 15kg (33lb)6 drone to fly for up to 12 hours
  • With 15 test flights under their belt, Chinese team achieve methanol-powered flight before German company
Scientists working on a drone development programme created a “game-changing” methanol-powered fuel system that kept their UAV in the air for 12 hours.

It took them more than two years to get the FY-36 unmanned aerial vehicle to the flying prototype stage, said Zhang Wenyu, general manager of Feye UAV Technology, a Tianjin-based drone manufacturer that collaborated with the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in northeastern Liaoning province.

At 15 kilograms (33 pounds), the low-noise FY-36 can be lifted by an adult or transported in a pickup truck, and designers said its hybrid aerodynamic shape – with four vertical propellers – can allow it to cruise at speeds as high as 90km/h, or 56mph.

With a payload of up to three kilograms, the FY-36 was designed to perform tasks such as power line inspection, search and rescue missions, geological mapping and military intelligence gathering, but its power source is what stands out.

Developers say the FY-36 has been flight-tested 15 times. Photo: Handout
Developers say the FY-36 has been flight-tested 15 times. Photo: Handout

Its methanol fuel cell was designed to generate enough electricity for a flight time of up to 12 hours per charge. By comparison, a low-cost lithium-powered Chinese DJI Spark “selfie drone” can stay in the air for 15 minutes, while the professional-grade DJI Inspire 2 can barely top half an hour using a lithium-ion battery pack.

“There were tons of problems which had to be solved on the ground” before the FY-36 took its maiden flight in November, Zhang – who described the technology as a “game-changer” – said on Monday.