ZeroAvia celebrates maiden flight of world's largest hydrogen aircraft
ZeroAvia's 19-seat Dornier 228 has taken its first test flight in the UK. It's a testbed for the company's clean aviation technology, using a zero-emissions hydrogen-electric powertrain that's slated for certification and commercial flights by 2025.
Announced in June 2021, the HyFlyer II program continues ZeroAvia's aggressive push to prove hydrogen is the path forward in aviation. The original HyFlyer program put a six-seater in the air back in 2020, and it was the biggest hydrogen-powered plane ever to fly at the time. It has now completed more than 30 flights
In 2021, the company made headlines when a two-seat test plane lost power and made a forced landing in a field, losing its left wing in a hedge before coming to an "abrupt stop" in a ditch. Thankfully, nobody was injured, and a subsequent AAIB investigation found the hydrogen powertrain was not responsible for the incident, but it was certainly a wake-up call and a cautionary tale for other companies hoping to take a fast-paced startup mindset into the aviation world.
Now, one of the company's two 19-seaters has entered the test flight phase for the first time – albeit with a more cautious implementation of the technology. ZeroAvia has left the standard Honeywell TPE-331 combustion engine on the right wing, while fitting the left wing with a 600-kW electric motor.
For this test machine, the hydrogen tanks, fuel cell stacks and lithium-ion buffer batteries are all inside the cabin, where they can easily be monitored and accessed. ZeroAvia says it hopes to have a fully commercial-ready configuration ready to submit for certification later this year, in which the whole powertrain will be kept outside the cabin, presumably in the wing. The company hopes to have this 600-kW powertrain fully certified and running commercial flights for nine-to-19-seat aircraft by 2025.
The company estimates this powertrain will deliver a range around 345 miles (556 km), making it relevant to regional flights. A standard Dornier 228, for reference, can fly 19 passengers up to 702 miles (1,130 km), according to Simple Flying. The only battery-electric 19-seater we can find for comparison is the ES-19 from Sweden's Heart Aerospace, which promised 250 miles (402 km) of range before it was abandoned in favor of a 40-seat hybrid design with fossil fuel reserves.
The hydrogen powertrain's range figures might not seem very impressive for a clean fuel touted for its energy density advantages, but the next step up is already underway; ZeroAvia is working on a 2.5-MW powertrain for 2026, designed for airliners between 40-80 seats, with a projected 1,150-mile (1,852-km) range. Things will continue to scale up from there.
See the HyFlyer II's maiden flight in the video below.