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Another boost for green aviation as largest hydrogen fuel cell aircraft takes flight

Just weeks after a 19-seat hydrogen powered plane flew for ten minutes over England, a 40-seat aircraft became the largest hydrogen fuel cell-powered aircraft ever to fly when it took to the air for 15 minutes, over Washington yesterday.

Universal Hydrogen had fitted a twin-propeller De Havilland with  a tank of liquid hydrogen which powered one of the engines while the other ran on regular aviation fuel as a safety back-up.

Alex Kroll, the company’s chief test pilot said: ‘During the second circuit over the airport, we were comfortable with the performance of the hydrogen powertrain, so we were able to throttle back the fossil fuel turbine engine to demonstrate cruise principally on hydrogen power. The airplane handled beautifully, and the noise and vibrations from the fuel cell powertrain are significantly lower than from the conventional turbine engine.’

Universal Hydrogen was only founded by CEO Paul Eremenko in 2020 as ‘a pragmatic, near-term approach to making hydrogen commercial flight a reality.’

Other than getting an aircraft into the air, the company have been developing a modular hydrogen delivery system which they unveiled in December last year. The system facilitates the delivery of hydrogen to the airport and onto the plane,  eliminating the need for costly new infrastructure, as any airport capable of handling cargo is already hydrogen-ready.

In France the company are already retrofitting a larger aircraft, the ATR72 which they expect to be flying next year. These will be flown commercially by Connect Airlines, operating in Northeast and Midwest America and Amelia, a French airline.

Eremenko said; ‘Our end game is the single-aisle jet. That class of airplane is more than 50% of all aviation emissions. If they go hydrogen, then it will be a very different future for the aviation sector than if those are kerosene airplanes.’

 

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