The largest aircraft so far tested with a hydrogen engine

The largest aircraft so far tested with a hydrogen engine

The aerospace company ZeroAvia successfully tested the use of a hydrogen electric motor to drive one of the propellers on a 19-seat aircraft.


20 January 2023

ZeroAvia test plane

ZeroAvia test plane


A plane with an experimental hydrogen electric motor on its left wing successfully completed a test flight this week. It is the largest such ship to operate with the help of a hydrogen engine so far.

UK-US based company ZeroAvia conducted a 10-minute test flight using an engine that converts hydrogen fuel into electricity to drive one of the plane’s two propellers. ZeroAvia aims to enable commercial flights powered only by hydrogen fuel cells by 2025.

“When people see that we can make zero-emissions flight on clean fuel that we can create in so many places, where there is electricity and water, it changes the way people think about things,” says Jacob Leachman of State University. of washington.

The demonstration at Cotswold Airport in Gloucestershire, UK, also marked the first flight of the 19-seat Dornier 228 aircraft which had been converted to a test aircraft. It’s a significantly larger plane than the six-seat Piper Malibu that ZeroAvia has been using to test the hydrogen electric engine since 2020.

If all goes well with subsequent tests, ZeroAvia aims to submit the hydrogen electric engine for regulatory certification in 2023. That could also pave the way for a larger engine suitable for 90-seat aircraft.

“There have been tests of smaller-scale hydrogen fuel cell-based aircraft, and every time we demonstrate higher power levels in larger aircraft, we learn,” says Kiruba Haran of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

The aviation start-up already has investment from American Airlines along with an agreement for the possibility of ordering up to 100 hydroelectric engines in the future.

Airbus, one of the world’s two largest aircraft manufacturers, also previously announced plans to use hydrogen fuel in developing the world’s first zero-emission commercial jet by 2035. But Airbus has acknowledged that most commercial aircraft will continue to use diesel engines. gas turbine until at least 2050.

Moving commercial aviation toward truly zero-emissions flight would require much more than simply switching from traditional jet fuel to hydrogen fuel. Hydrogen fuel production also requires electricity that can still come from a fossil fuel-powered power grid, though researchers are looking for ways to more cleanly produce hydrogen in quantities high enough to power fleets of aircraft.

“When you really try to go to sustainable hydrogen-based aviation, you have to figure out how you’re going to get the hydrogen at scale,” says John Hansman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “And we are talking about a lot of hydrogen.”

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