DALLAS — On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted California-based Universal Hydrogen approval to commence the inaugural flight of its hydrogen-powered Dash-8-300 test plane at Moses Lake.
Following initial ground taxi tests on Friday, the propellers were run up to their full RPM, granting Universal the special airworthiness certificate in the experimental category. According to the Seattle Times, if all goes well with the taxi tests, the aircraft could take off as soon as this month.
Universal and its leader, Paul Eremenko, former Chief Technology Officer and clean energy pioneer of both Airbus and United Technologies, are devising a way to retrofit midsized turboprop planes to run on hydrogen, the lightest element in the periodic table.
According to the company, its “mission is to put aviation on a trajectory to meet Paris Agreement emissions targets by making hydrogen-powered commercial flight a near-term reality.”
Liquid H2 Modular Pods
To enable the necessary infrastructure for H2-powered aviation, the company is engineering modular pods of liquid hydrogen that can be quickly transported by truck to any airport and loaded onto an airplane. Additionally, engineers are creating a power system within the plane’s nacelle – the housing around the motor – with a fuel cell that converts the hydrogen into electricity, powering the propellers.
Eremenko compared the hydrogen pod to a Nespresso coffee pod and the aircraft to the coffee machine. Aerospace reporter Dominic Gates furthers the analogy, adding that on the test plane at Moses Lake, “it’s only the coffee machine that’s being tested: the powertrain that converts the hydrogen to electricity and turns the propellers.”
Universal Hydrogen’s Dash-8 is equipped with a tank of gaseous hydrogen in the back and one propeller powered by hydrogen, while the other is powered by regular jet fuel.
If successful, it will be the largest hydrogen-powered airplane to fly. With 41 seats, Universal plans to use the Dash-8 for development, but its first product will be the even bigger ATR-72-600, configured for 56 passengers.
Last month, the competing California-based ZeroAvia flew a 19-seat Dornier 228 turboprop in England with a hydrogen fuel cell supplemented by an electric battery. However, Universal Hydrogen has developed a powertrain that does not require a battery and is entirely powered by hydrogen.
This week, Air New Zealand (NZ) added Universal Hydrogen, Embraer, and Heart Aerospace to its zero-emissions plane group.
Featured image: Universal Hydrogen