Universal Hydrogen Co, developer of a hydrogen logistics network for the aviation industry, last week conducted an initial 15-minute test flight of a 40-passenger regional airliner using hydrogen fuel cell propulsion as part of a two-year flight test campaign.
The aircraft, nicknamed Lightning McClean, had one of its turbine engines replaced with Universal Hydrogen’s fuel cell-electric, megawatt-class powertrain, which was built around the ProGen family of fuel cells made by Plug Power Inc (NASDAQ:PLUG), but specially modified for aviation use. The plane took off from Grant County International Airport in Washington state and its flight was conducted under an FAA Special Airworthiness Certificate.
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The ongoing flight test campaign is seen to culminate in 2025 with an ATR 72 regional aircraft entering into service in a 56-passenger configuration converted to run on hydrogen, the partners said.
The maiden test flight was witnessed by representatives of Connect Airlines and Amelia, the respective US and European launch customers for the hydrogen airplanes. Connect has placed a first-position US order for the conversion of 75 ATR 72-600 regional airplanes to hydrogen powertrains, and also has purchase rights for 25 additional aircraft conversions. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in 2025.
“The airplanes are converted to hydrogen using an aftermarket retrofit conversion kit, tackling the existing fleet rather than developing a brand new airplane. And hydrogen fueling uses modular capsules compatible with existing freight networks and airport cargo handling equipment, making every airport in the world hydrogen-ready,” said Paul Eremenko, Universal Hydrogen co-founder and CEO.
Eremenko went on to say that the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families of aircraft currently account for more than half of the aviation carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and that since their manufacturers will need to replace them with new designs, this would be “a golden opportunity” to make their successors run on hydrogen.
Universal Hydrogen says it is backed by GE Aviation, Airbus Ventures, Toyota Ventures, JetBlue Ventures, and American Airlines, as well as some of the world’s largest green hydrogen producers and financial investors.