Aircraft

Hydrogen fuel cell four-seater passenger plane takes to the air

Hydrogen fuel cell four-seater...
The HY4 four seater hydrogen fuel cell passenger aircraft on its first public test flight
The HY4 four seater hydrogen fuel cell passenger aircraft on its first public test flight
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The HY4 hydrogen fuel cell four passenger aircraft on the runway at Stuttgart Airport
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The HY4 hydrogen fuel cell four passenger aircraft on the runway at Stuttgart Airport
As well as carrying two passengers, each fuselage of the HY4 demonstrator is also home to a 9 kg hydrogen storage tank
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As well as carrying two passengers, each fuselage of the HY4 demonstrator is also home to a 9 kg hydrogen storage tank
Four low temperature Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cell modules sit behind the 80 kW electric motor and single propeller
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Four low temperature Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cell modules sit behind the 80 kW electric motor and single propeller
The HY4's 80 kW electric motor is said to make a maximum speed of around 200 km/h possible
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The HY4's 80 kW electric motor is said to make a maximum speed of around 200 km/h possible
The HY4 four seater hydrogen fuel cell passenger aircraft on its first public test flight
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The HY4 four seater hydrogen fuel cell passenger aircraft on its first public test flight

A collaboration of aircraft makers, fuel cell developers and university engineers have come a step closer to zero emission passenger flights with the first flight of a hydrogen fuel cell four-seater electric aircraft. The twin-cabin, (relatively) low-noise HY4 took off at 11:15 am (local) today for a quick zip around Stuttgart Airport.

The HY4's 21.36 m (70 ft) wing is home to the HY4's central single propeller with a two-seater fuselage on either side, a design that's said to allow for "optimal distribution of the drive components and a higher total loading capacity." Each fuselage is home to a 9 kg (20 lb) hydrogen storage tank that feeds the four low temperature Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cell modules sat behind the prop. These cells convert hydrogen and oxygen into water and electrical energy.

Four low temperature Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cell modules sit behind the 80 kW electric motor and single propeller
Four low temperature Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cell modules sit behind the 80 kW electric motor and single propeller

The developers are keen to point out that should the hydrogen needed for the fuel cells be produced using renewable energy, the aircraft would fly completely emission-free – though there was no mention of where the fuel was sourced for today's test flight.

The cells continuously power the aircraft's electric motor during flight, while 21 kWh lithium polymer battery packs help out during take-off and climb. The HY4 is reckoned capable of a maximum range of 1,500 km (930 mi), though this will depend on speed, altitude and load. It's 80 kW electric motor is said to make a maximum speed of around 200 km/h (124 mph) possible, with a cruising speed given as 145 km/h (90 mph).

Today's demonstration flight, though, was only for about 15 minutes and limited to flying around Stuttgart Airport.

The HY4 hydrogen fuel cell four passenger aircraft on the runway at Stuttgart Airport
The HY4 hydrogen fuel cell four passenger aircraft on the runway at Stuttgart Airport

The HY4 project was officially presented at the World of Energy Solutions trade fair last October, and is being developed by small plane maker Pipistrel, fuel cell producer Hydrogenics, hybridization experts from the University of Ulm and researchers from the German Aerospace Center's Institute of Engineering Thermodynamics.

With today's short test flight in the bag, further work on improving the power train will be undertaken towards a goal of creating regional hoppers capable of transporting up to 19 passengers. "Small passenger aircraft, such as the HY4, could soon be used in regional transport as electric air taxis and offer a flexible and rapid alternative to existing means of transport," said the project's Josef Kallo.

A video of the flight can be seen below.

Source: HY4.org

HY4 Erstflug in STR

12 comments
VincentWolf
The future of air transport is in the plane designed by Luke Workman--as seen on this website http://newatlas.com/axial-stack-battery-supersonic-electric-airliners/45537/
Bob
If each cabin had a narrower profile with fore and aft seating rather than side by side, the speed and range likely would have been much better. The propeller would probably have done better as a pusher rather than a tractor configuration. The extra wheels on the landing gear added a lot of weight. The center section of the wing and the motor housing appear much thicker than would be expected for such a small electric motor. Obviously, this was meant simply as a proof of concept design and the batteries are massive.
Avianthro
Sorry Mr. Wolf, but as someone with a pretty good basic aircraft engineering background, one of my majors as an undergrad, I can say that it would be possible even for a relative duffer like me to write a whole book on the fallacies and downright "ridiculosity" of the Luke Workman concept...first, and most deadly issue: power and energy storage density even for his fantasy battery concept is still about 1/10 that of jet A fuel. Second, electricity is fine for powering a propeller, but not for a jet propulsion system. Propellers are for subsonic aircraft. Jets are for supersonic. For this H2 fuel cell powered airplane, at least the issue of power and energy density has been eased a little bit, but there are still substantial weight penalties relative to an internal combustion engine that could burn renewable diesel fuel from Renewable Fischer Tropsch Synthesis (See e.g Audi-Sunfire and Doty Energy). Also, the challenge of an H2 storage and supply network relative to RFTS diesel is a very heavy factor to consider, along with costs for fuel cells and batteries. In evaluating any technology's sustainability, we must not look only at whether it uses a renewable fuel but whether it gives the best total lifetime cost efficiency. H2 fuel cell technology will not win on this all-important parameter. Really, folks, it's time to stop wasting good R&D time and money on silliness like this.
watersworm
One point versus Solar Impulse, with a "little" airspan of 21m the HY4 would take 4 "passengers" (1 pilot + 3 pax) whereas SI with something like 70m wings (or more ?) do carry one... pilot. Agree with Avianthro about hydrogen production. OK "if and when" renewable energy etc etc why not one day far far away... Agree also with the principle of "renewable" diesel or jet fuel, though, this time also its "when" etc etc
Booleanboy
Bob, this is a development platform for the hydrogen fuel cell system and I guess economy was an important factor. The airframe came from Pipistrel aircraft and looks like an engine nacelle has been grafted between two of their standard Taurus model fuselages. The Taurus is already available with an electric power system and I suspect doing things this way was much cheaper and quicker than developing an entire new aircraft from scratch.
GaryP
There is no zero emission vehicle unless the energy comes from dark matter. Someone has to produce the hydrogen and that takes energy and emissions. One has to look at the total process, not just the engine.
Kpar
"though there was no mention of where the fuel was sourced for today's test flight" My guess is coal.
Mack McDowell
Im glad most of the commentators are not the ones doing this research, it takes an open mind and a willingness to try something that seems outlandish and be willing to fail a few times before getting it right. everyone seems so certain that this idea and those of Workman just wont work without even taking time to test them out... Avianthro jet engines are possible with electric motors but the power densitiy issue hasnt been fixed so they havent really been made yet... a jet engine is just a hugely efficient and complicated ducted fan...
Tom Lee Mullins
I think the idea of a fuel cell powered plane is both cool and green but the design of this plane seems rather odd. It seems like a P38 but with the engine in the middle and the passengers where the P38 engines would be. I would rather have two fuel cell powered motors with the passengers in the middle like a P38. There are many green sources of hydrogen. One just has to look them up.
George Kafantaris
Hydrogen is the transportation fuel of the future. Hang on to your hats.