Universal Hydrogen Successfully Completes First Flight of Hydrogen Regional Airliner

Universal Hydrogen has flown a 40-passenger regional airliner using hydrogen fuel cell propulsion.

The latest flight featured the largest hydrogen fuel cell-powered airplane ever to take to the skies and the largest airplane to cruise principally on hydrogen.

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.

The company has a rapidly growing order book, today totaling 247 aircraft conversions from 16 customers worldwide, totaling over US$1 billion in conversions backlog and over $2 billion in fuel services over the first ten years of operation.

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 the safety of the flight.

The flight was piloted by Alex Kroll, an experienced former US 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.

#hydrogenpower #fuelcellpoweredairplane

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