Aircraft

World-first hydrogen helicopter to certify plug-and-play H2 powerplant

World-first hydrogen helicopte...
Piasecki's PA-890 slowed-rotor compound helicopter is targeted for certification and commercial production by 2025 – a fuel cell-powered version aims to be the world's first manned hydrogen helicopter
Piasecki's PA-890 slowed-rotor compound helicopter is targeted for certification and commercial production by 2025 – a fuel cell-powered version aims to be the world's first manned hydrogen helicopter
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Piasecki's PA-890 slowed-rotor compound helicopter is targeted for certification and commercial production by 2025 – a fuel cell-powered version aims to be the world's first manned hydrogen helicopter
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Piasecki's PA-890 slowed-rotor compound helicopter is targeted for certification and commercial production by 2025 – a fuel cell-powered version aims to be the world's first manned hydrogen helicopter
Piasecki has partnered with HyPoint to develop, certify and productize a 650-kW hydrogen fuel system for electric aircraft
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Piasecki has partnered with HyPoint to develop, certify and productize a 650-kW hydrogen fuel system for electric aircraft
The PA-890 has large, tilting wings for efficient forward flight with a slowed top rotor, and a tail rotor that tilts backward to become a pusher prop in forward flight
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The PA-890 has large, tilting wings for efficient forward flight with a slowed top rotor, and a tail rotor that tilts backward to become a pusher prop in forward flight
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Hydrogen fuel cell innovator HyPoint has teamed up with Piasecki Aircraft on a headline project to build the world's first manned hydrogen helicopter – but in the process, they plan to develop and certify a H2 system that can be integrated into any eVTOL aircraft, radically boosting its range capability.

The two companies have raised an initial US$6.5 million toward what could genuinely be a revolutionary powertrain for electric aircraft; a fully FAA-certified hydrogen system would instantly allow electric aircraft to carry several times more energy on board, vastly boosting flight endurance while also enabling fast refueling instead of slow charging.

HyPoint claims its "turbo air-cooled" fuel cell system" will be able to achieve up to 2,000 watts per kilogram (2.2 lb) of specific power, which is more than triple the power-to-weight ratio of traditional (liquid-cooled) hydrogen fuel cells systems. It will also boast up to 1,500 watt-hours per kilogram of energy density, enabling longer-distance journeys." For comparison, today's commercially available lithium battery packs rarely break the 300-Wh/kg mark.

HyPoint says its lightweight fuel cell system has already been validated in bench-testing of lab prototypes, and that it's capable of generating enough continuous power to handle the energy-hungry demands of vertical takeoff and landing without the need for a heavy buffer battery.

The initial agreement is a plan for five 650-kW hydrogen fuel cell systems, which will be integrated into Piasecki's PA-890 electric compound helicopter. This is a pretty wild design in its own right; an electric slowed-rotor five-seater with wide wings for efficient cruise and a tail rotor that tilts backward in forward flight to become a pusher prop. Oh, and the wings tilt 90 degrees upward to get out of the main rotor's way on takeoff and landing.

The PA-890 has large, tilting wings for efficient forward flight with a slowed top rotor, and a tail rotor that tilts backward to become a pusher prop in forward flight
The PA-890 has large, tilting wings for efficient forward flight with a slowed top rotor, and a tail rotor that tilts backward to become a pusher prop in forward flight

The PA-890 has been designed to meet existing FAA Part 27 standards for commercial certification, and Piasecki is already in discussions with the FAA to outline certification criteria. The hydrogen powertrain will add an extra wrinkle; the FAA has granted experimental certification to several fuel cell aircraft, but to the best of our knowledge nobody's fully type-certified a hydrogen aircraft for commercial use yet.

But whoever gets it done will be able to go around eVTOL companies offering a relatively simple, pre-approved, risk-sharing pathway to a massive boost in range and endurance – one that may look very attractive to many air taxi operators.

If urban air mobility takes off the way the eVTOL industry hopes, these things will be flying in and out of vertiports like taxis at a taxi rank. Now imagine the size of your taxi rank is limited to the top floor of a multi-story urban car park – maybe you've got enough room for four to eight landing pads. Now imagine the cabs need to plug in and charge for half an hour every time they land.

It's a nightmare; battery-powered eVTOLs may not have the endurance to hover, twiddle their thumbs and wait until a space clears out. And every minute these things sit on the ground is money lost in peak hour. A long-range, fast-fueling hydrogen system could be a game-changer in this scenario.

Piasecki has partnered with HyPoint to develop, certify and productize a 650-kW hydrogen fuel system for electric aircraft
Piasecki has partnered with HyPoint to develop, certify and productize a 650-kW hydrogen fuel system for electric aircraft

“We are laser-focused on the development and qualification of a 650-kW system for our PA-890 eVTOL Compound Helicopter, which would be the world’s first manned hydrogen-powered helicopter," says John Piasecki, President and CEO of Piasecki Aircraft. "Success will pave the way for collaboration with other eVTOL OEMs with different platform sizes to ensure broad application of this technology."

“Initial lab testing funded by Piasecki last winter demonstrated the technical viability of HyPoint’s hydrogen fuel cell system," he continues. "While we are benchmarking HyPoint’s technology against alternatives and continue to rigorously test and validate findings, we are very optimistic. Our objective is to develop full-scale systems within two years to support on-aircraft certification testing in 2024 and fulfill existing customer orders for up to 325 units starting in 2025.”

Source: HyPoint

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12 comments
12 comments
Steven Clarkson
This looks promising, see there is room for both evtols and helicopters in the future. And in this instance the one compliments the other !
Towerman
Interesisting design. I agree with Steve.
....They talk about the tail rotor tilting to become a pusher prop ? How does that work. I can only assume the idea is that the tail rotor acts as rudder/anti torque stability in vtol/hover mode and then as soon as the craft picks up speed it transistions to become a pusher prop, with the mainrotor feathering as to not create torque since its a single mainrotor system...I do like the single rotor.
David
While reading another welcome article about e-planes, I had the idea of a hydrogen fuel-cell autogyro, with a pusher-prop powered by H2. There again, why not pure electric autogyro. Let's add to the mix and have a more diverse range of cleaner e-planes: not all eVTOL, but with some eSTOL. Does anyone know if there are any e-autogyros being developed? Of course, it does not mean only the Little Nelly type by Ken Wallis, they could be larger.
sally
I presume by the ‘wings tilting upward’ they mean it will pivot to face vertical during take off and landing? If not can someone clarify.
dan
@ David: right, "vertical" is often not needed (surely an advantage, but only nice to have). gyrocopter do offer interestingly short landings (less than 100 feet) and for take off not much more. rotary aircraft need more power in comparison to an airplane, count roughly 1 kW for 10 pounds weight. So, a gyrocopter of 1500 lb need a constant 150 kW. In short, batteries must become roughly 10 times more energy dense for an e-gyrocopter. I read about a European company developing a modular system, not sure, partly electric and maybe with hydrogen in the future. No chance with batteries today.
paul314
Call us back when there's a full-scale prototype with flight hours.
Towerman
Thats why it's combibed with a hydrogen system for longer range the naysayers above had yet again not read nor comprehend the write up.
jerryd
While the right drive, rotor systems, using a H2FC system is just dumb. Far better would be a RE fueled generator at 5% of the price of the H2FC system.
And why does it have a wing when it already has 2 rotating wings? KISS
Graeme S
re jerryd with this set up the main rotors above ( 4 wings) will lift the aircraft, then together with the pusher prop forward speed will be achieved, as the aircraft increases forward speed the lower wings will start to take some of the load (i.e. generate lift) with the lower wings now producing lift the upper 4 wings need to do less lifting, so they can be slowed down so that the retreating blade stall, that all helicopters get as they travel faster, is negated by the slower RRPM and the sharing of the lift needs, this means that this particular aircraft will be able to fly a lot faster than a standard helicopter, and that is what all the discussion revolves around, vertical take off, well every helicopter can do that but all helicopters are limited in forward speed and forward speed, this is the fixed wing big advantage, this has both
Towerman
The use of H2FC is pure brilliance. Other than a great technoligy achievement, you don't bring prices down by sticking with stoneage technology.
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