Hydrogen-powered plane in world first flight

Hydrogen plane

The largest aircraft in the world to be powered by a hydrogen-electric engine has taken its first flight in Britain.

The hydrogen powered flight featured a 19-seat Dornier 228 testbed aircraft, retrofitted with a full-size prototype hydrogen-electric powertrain on the left wing of the aircraft.

The flight took place from the ZeroAvia’s R&D facility at Cotswold Airport in Gloucestershire, UK, and lasted 10 minutes. The landmark flight forms part of the HyFlyer II project, a major R&D programme backed by the UK Government’s flagship ATI Programme, which targets development of a 600kW powertrain to support 9-19 seat aircraft worldwide with zero-emission flight. 

The twin-engine aircraft was retrofitted to incorporate ZeroAvia’s hydrogen-electric engine on its left wing, which then operated alongside a single Honeywell TPE-331 stock engine on the right. In this testing configuration, the hydrogen-electric powertrain comprises two fuel cell stacks, with lithium-ion battery packs providing peak power support during take-off and adding additional redundancy for safe testing. In this testbed configuration, hydrogen tanks and fuel cell power generation systems were housed inside the cabin. In a commercial configuration, external storage would be used and the seats restored.

The hydrogen-electric powertrain on board was fuelled using compressed gaseous hydrogen produced with an on-site electrolyser. To enable hydrogen production on site, ZeroAvia and HyFlyer II partner the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) have delivered and operated the Hydrogen Airport Refuelling Ecosystem (HARE), a microcosm of what infrastructure will look like in terms of green hydrogen production, storage, refuelling and fuel cell powered flight. The system’s electrolyser capacity was doubled earlier this year from its initial design for the latest project.

This is the largest ZeroAvia engine tested to date, and places the company on the direct path to a certifiable configuration to be finalised and submitted for certification in 2023, with this programme also serving as key to unlocking speedy technology development for larger aircraft. ZeroAvia’s 2-5 MW powertrain programme, already underway, will scale the clean engine technology for up to 90-seat aircraft, with further expansion into narrowbody aircraft demonstrators over the next decade.

ZeroAvia will now work towards its certifiable configuration in order to deliver commercial routes using the technology by 2025. The Dornier 228 will conduct a series of test flights from Kemble and later demonstration flights from other airports. Almost exactly two years ago, ZeroAvia conducted the first of more than 30 flights of a six-seat Piper Malibu aircraft using a 250kW hydrogen-electric powertrain.

“This is a major moment, not just for ZeroAvia, but for the aviation industry as a whole, as it shows that true zero-emission commercial flight is only a few years away,” said Val Miftakhov, founder and CEO of ZeroAvia.

“The UK is a world leader in green aviation technology, and the global shift to cleaner forms of flight represents a huge opportunity to secure growth and jobs for our country,” said Grant Shapps, UK Secretary of State for Business. “That’s why we are backing businesses who share our ambitions, reaping the benefits of green technology and growing the thousands of new, skilled jobs that come with it.”

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