Hydrogen-powered airliner makes first flight in Central Washington, providing a preview of a attainable future

Hydrogen-powered airliner makes first flight in Central Washington, providing a preview of a attainable future

Hydrogen gas is one among a number of choices the aviation trade is testing to scale back its carbon footprint, however the know-how nonetheless attracts notable skepticism.

Take a look at pilot Alex Kroll was on the controls of the De Havilland Sprint 8-300 with a retrofitted hydrogen gas cell powertrain when it was cleared for takeoff on a partly cloudy morning. Was he nervous?

“It is wholesome to be a bit of nervous going into something,” the ex-Air Pressure pilot mentioned afterwards. “However you have practiced and rehearsed nicely sufficient and incessantly sufficient that you just’re assured the system will carry out.”

And carry out it did. Kroll, a co-pilot and a flight engineer ascended to three,500 toes within the brightly painted, twin engine commuter airplane. They flew two broad determine eights across the airfield earlier than coming in for a easy landing about quarter-hour later.

A crowd of buyers, floor crew and a couple of dozen airline VIPs gathered beside the runway to observe. The greater than 60 onlookers appeared to neglect for a second how chilly the morning was as they heartily cheered the liftoff and touchdown.

“It appears like a standard airplane,” Kroll mentioned. “You hardly know the engine on the precise has been modified.”

For the primary flight, one of many Sprint 8’s two motors was powered by the hydrogen gas cells whereas the opposite ran on common jet gas simply to be protected. A California-based startup named Common Hydrogen directed the conversion. The corporate took out seats within the again to make room for a compressed liquid hydrogen tank. The gas cells mix the hydrogen with air to supply electrical energy and water. The electrical energy powers the propeller. The one exhaust is water vapor.

Universal Hydrogen CEO Paul Eremenko congratulated test pilot Alex Kroll after the landing.

Tom Banse


NW Information Community

Common Hydrogen CEO Paul Eremenko congratulated take a look at pilot Alex Kroll after the touchdown.

At a post-flight reception, Common Hydrogen CEO Paul Eremenko lifted a glass to toast what he referred to as, “the start of a brand new golden age of aviation.”

“Yeah, fairly friggin’ superb,” he enthused to the attendees earlier than they clinked their champagne flutes. “I feel we actually witnessed one thing historic right here.”

Eremenko mentioned his firm has an formidable marketing strategy to start deliveries of transformed twin engine turboprops to regional airways starting in late 2025. That assumes well timed authorities certification of the brand new know-how. A distinguishing function of Common Hydrogen’s providing is a modular gas capsule that may be swapped out and in of an airliner fuselage to refuel with out requiring new airport infrastructure.

“Typically, I might say the trade just isn’t but on board with hydrogen. In order that was one of many causes at this time was such a historic day,” Eremenko mentioned in an interview Thursday. “I feel the tide will flip. It is going to flip as we retire the dangers, or the perceived dangers, related to hydrogen aviation — whether or not it’s certification, or hydrogen provide, or hydrogen logistics, passenger acceptance.”

Retired Boeing CEO Phil Condit is without doubt one of the skeptics. He forged doubt on hydrogen throughout a current visitor lecture on the College of Washington. He cited inefficiencies in its manufacturing and distribution. Condit mentioned he’s most eager on biofuels for zero emissions flight as a result of they’re basically a drop in substitute for kerosene jet gas.

“I can put it in an airplane that exists at this time and run that airplane,” Condit mentioned. “Are you able to get the prices down, that’s the query.”

What the trade calls sustainable aviation gas is kind of costly and in restricted provide at the moment. Condit and most different aerospace engineers say batteries are too heavy to energy giant business airplanes. Eremenko for his half scoffs on the touted advantages of artificial fuels and biofuels, calling them a stopgap, “band assist” resolution that fails to drive down emissions sufficient.

Main airways are hedging their bets by investing in startups with completely different applied sciences. For instance, Alaska Airways has run periodic flight checks with a biofuel mix whereas additionally partnering with ZeroAvia, a competitor of Common Hydrogen within the zero emission airplane conversion enterprise. United Airways has positioned orders for giant portions of biofuel whereas additionally committing to purchase a number of fashions of in-development battery-electric commuter plane.

The hydrogen-electric motor and propeller under the wing at left differed from the conventional turboprop engine at right, requiring skilled piloting.

Tom Banse


NW Information Community

The hydrogen-electric motor and propeller below the wing at left differed from the standard turboprop engine at proper, requiring expert piloting.

Moses Lake airport director Wealthy Mueller mentioned Central Washington has now hosted demonstrations of all the main choices to energy guilt-free air journey; particularly, electrical batteries, biofuels and hydrogen.

“I do know that lots of people consider Moses Lake because the cease on I-90 on their approach to Spokane or vice versa,” Mueller mentioned. “However for what’s going on in the way forward for aviation, we’re discovering ourselves proper in the course of it.”

Moses Lake has lengthy attracted take a look at flight campaigns due to its good flying climate, pretty uncrowded skies and the extra-long runways on the airfield, the latter a legacy from Grant County Worldwide Airport’s former life as a Chilly Warfare-era Air Pressure base. Across the time the hydrogen-electric plane finishes testing there later this 12 months, NASA contractors are anticipated to arrange store with a four-engine hybrid electrical plane demonstrator. Everett, Washington-based electrical motor maker MagniX is main that contact in partnership with plane modification and flight testing specialist AeroTEC. The airframe they’ve chosen for the NASA-funded mission is a retired De Havilland Sprint 7.

The earlier largest airplane to fly on hydrogen-electric energy was a 19-seat Dornier 228 regional airliner. ZeroAvia transformed that airplane in England and it accomplished its first flight in January. The Sprint 8-300 that Common Hydrogen is utilizing as its testbed carried 50+ passengers in business service earlier than its insides have been gutted for the powertrain retrofit.

Common Hydrogen can also be engaged on a conversion package for a bigger mannequin of regional airliner, the 72-seat ATR 72-600. That is the mannequin anticipated to enter income service with the 2 airways which are first in line to take supply, Massachusetts-based Join Airways and French provider Amelia Airways.

“It’s nice to see the progress of the know-how, nice to see the primary flight,” mentioned Scott Brownrigg, director of public affairs for Join Airways. “We’re actually excited to be the primary U.S. airline to supply zero emission flying by means of these zero emission plane.”

Brownrigg traveled to Moses Lake to witness the primary flight of the hydrogen-powered airplane. The startup regional airline positioned a agency order final 12 months for 75 ATRs with the hydrogen conversion and has an choice to take an extra 25 hydrogen-electric planes.

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