World's largest hydrogen-powered plane makes maiden flight
ZeroAvia says it has completed the world's first hydrogen fuel-cell-powered flight of a commercial-grade aircraft. On September 23, 2020, a modified Piper M-class six-seater plane, which ZeroAvia says is now the largest hydrogen-powered aircraft in the world, took off from the company's research and development facility in Cranfield, England, and completed a full-pattern circuit before landing.
The latest test flight follows on from the company's June 2020 first-ever flight of a commercial-scale electric-powered aircraft in the UK when a similar aircraft with an all-electric powertrain took to the air. Both are part of ZeroAcvia's HyFlyer project to produce not only a scalable hydrogen/electric hybrid propulsion system that can be fitted to conventional aircraft and, later, new airframes, but also develop the hydrogen infrastructure needed to fuel them.
Project HyFlyer is funded by the British government through Innovate UK and the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI)-led Aerospace R&T program. ZeroAvia says that the technology is scalable in a short time and the company expects to see 10-20-seat aircraft going into service in three years, 50-100-seat versions by 2030, and a 200-seat aircraft with a range of over 3,000 nm (3,452 mi, 5,556 km) by 2040.
According to ZeroAvia, the next and final stage of the six-seat development project is to conduct a 250-mi (400-km) zero-emissions flight from an airfield in the Orkney Islands north of Scotland – a distance equivalent to that from Los Angeles to San Francisco or London to Edinburgh.
When the technology is mature, ZeroAvia says the new hydrogen powertrain could lead to aircraft with lower operating, fuel, and maintenance costs than jet-fueled airplanes. Along with the powertrain, the company has also developed the Hydrogen Airport Refuelling Ecosystem (HARE) at Cranfield Airport, which is a pilot version of the infrastructure for supporting hydrogen production, storage, refueling, and fuel-cell-powered flight that the company will use for supplying hydrogen to its customers.
"It's hard to put into words what this means to our team, but also for everybody interested in zero-emission flight," says Val Miftakhov, CEO, ZeroAvia. "While some experimental aircraft have flown using hydrogen fuel cells as a power source, the size of this commercially available aircraft shows that paying passengers could be boarding a truly zero-emission flight very soon. All of the team at ZeroAvia and at our partner companies can be proud of their work getting us to this point, and I want to also thank our investors and the UK Government for their support."
Although ZeroAvia says the Piper M-class is the largest hydrogen-powered aircraft to have taken to the air, it may not hold that title for long with companies like Universal Hydrogen and even major players like Airbus turning to hydrogen to power future aircraft.
The video below shows the hydrogen/electric flight.