A Dash-8 commuter plane flew for 15 minutes with a hydrogen fuel-cell engine

March 8, 2023
Universal Hydrogen hopes to have a certificate for passenger flights by 2025, Steve Dent reports for Engadget.

MOSES LAKE, Wash., - Hydrogen holds promise for zero-emissions aviation, via either fuel-cell electric motors or jet engines that burn H2 directly. Now, Universal Hydrogen has announced that it completed a 15-minute test flight in a 40-seat Dash-8 commuter plane using a fuel-cell hydrogen engine. The company called the flight "historic" and said it is "committed to being North America’s first zero-emission airline," Steve Dent reports for EngadgetContinue reading original article.

The Military & Aerospace Electronics take:

7 March 2023 - The airplane, nicknamed Lightning McClean, took off at 8:41am PST from Grant County International Airport (KMWH) and flew for 15 minutes, reaching an altitude of 3,500 MSL. The flight, conducted under an FAA Special Airworthiness Certificate, was the first in a two-year flight test campaign expected to culminate in 2025 with entry into passenger service of ATR 72 regional aircraft converted to run on hydrogen. Representatives from Connect Airlines and Amelia, the US and European launch customers for the hydrogen airplanes, respectively, were on hand to witness the flight.

In this first test flight, one of the airplane’s turbine engines was replaced with Universal Hydrogen’s fuel cell-electric, megawatt-class powertrain. The other remained a conventional engine for safety of flight. The flight was piloted by Alex Kroll, an experienced former U.S. Air Force test pilot and the company’s chief test pilot. “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,” said Kroll. “The airplane handled beautifully, and the noise and vibrations from the fuel cell powertrain are significantly lower than from the conventional turbine engine.”

The company’s powertrain is built around Plug Power’s ProGen family of fuel cells specially modified for aviation use. One of the unique aspects of the design is that the powertrain does not use a battery—the fuel cells drive the electric motor directly—drastically reducing weight and cost. The motor, a modified magni650 electric propulsion unit, and power electronics were supplied by Everett-based magniX. Seattle-based AeroTEC assisted with engineering efforts, including design of the modified nacelle structure, aircraft systems design and integration, as well as aircraft modifications and installation of the Universal Hydrogen powertrain onto the flight test aircraft, accomplished in less than 12 months.

Related: FAA grants Universal Hydrogen experimental airworthiness certificate

Related: Hydrogen-based aviation takes off

Related: Hydrogen-powered passenger plane completes maiden flight in ‘world first’

Jamie Whitney, Associate Editor
Military + Aerospace Electronics

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Military Aerospace, create an account today!