A commercial-grade plane powered by hydrogen has completed its maiden flight in a step towards sustainable aviation – low and zero-emission passenger flights.
The flight, using a hydrogen fuel cell combining hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, took place on 25 September at ZeroAvia’s Research and Development facility in Cranfield, Bedfordshire, UK, with the Piper M-class six-seat plane completing taxi, takeoff, a full pattern circuit and landing, ZeroAvia said in a media release.
ZeroAvia’s achievement is the first step to realising the transformational possibilities of moving from fossil fuels to zero-emission hydrogen as the primary energy source for commercial aviation. Eventually, and without any new fundamental science required, hydrogen-powered aircraft will match the flight distances and payload of the current fossil fuel aircraft, the company said.
The flight is part of the HyFlyer project, a sequential R&D programme supported by the UK Government and follows the UK’s first ever commercial-scale battery-electric flight, conducted in the same aircraft in June. ZeroAvia will now turn its attention to the next and final stage of its six-seat development program – a 250-mile zero-emission flight out of an airfield in Orkney before the end of the year. The demonstration of this range is roughly equivalent to busy major routes such as Los Angeles to San Francisco or London to Edinburgh.
“It’s hard to put into words what this means to our team, but also for everybody interested in zero-emission flight,” Val Miftakhov, ZeroAvia CEO, said in a statement. “While some experimental aircraft have flown using hydrogen fuel cells as a power source, the size of this commercially available aircraft shows that paying passengers could be boarding a truly zero-emission flight very soon. All of the team at ZeroAvia and at our partner companies can be proud of their work getting us to this point, and I want to also thank our investors and the UK Government for their support.”
HyFlyer includes project partners Intelligent Energy and the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC). EMEC has described HyFlyer, which is backed by the UK Government, as aiming “to decarbonise medium-range, small passenger aircraft by demonstrating powertrain technology to replace conventional piston engines in propeller aircraft”.
French firm Alstom has developed the Coradia iLint, a train that harnesses fuel-cell technology to turn oxygen and hydrogen into electricity. According to the company, it can reach speeds of up to 140 kilometres per hour (87 miles per hour), produces little noise and “emits only steam and water”.