Universal Hydrogen moves to ground testing

Avatar photo

Universal Hydrogen has announced that it has completed its first taxi tests and has been granted an experimental airworthiness certificate by the Federal Aviation Administration for its Dash 8-300 flying test bed, equipped with a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain from megawatt class installed in one of its nacelles. The flight tests will be carried out at Moses Lake, in the State of Washington in the United States. (This article was published in issue 2817 of Airlines and Destinations).

A special certificate of airworthiness…

Universal Hydrogen announced on February 7, 2023 that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted it a special certificate of airworthiness in the experimental category, to conduct the first flight of its hydrogen-powered regional aircraft. The company also released video footage of the aircraft’s first successful taxi tests, designed to assess the ground-holding qualities and performance of the fuel cell electric powertrain at low power and low speed.

…For a Dash 8-300 flying test bed…

The Dash 8-300 flying testbed has a megawatt-class hydrogen fuel cell powertrain installed in one of its nacelles. The powertrain configuration closely resembles the company’s first product, a conversion kit for ATR 72-600 regional airliners, which is expected to be certified and enter commercial service from 2025. In particular, the powertrain of ‘Universal Hydrogen does not use a hybrid battery architecture – a major innovation – with all power being transmitted directly from the fuel cells to the electric motor, significantly reducing weight and life cycle cost.

…Powered by a hydrogen fuel cell

The FAA approval paves the way for the first flight of the Dash 8-300 flying testbed to take place at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Washington, USA. “The plane will be by far the largest hydrogen fuel cell-powered aircraft to take flight, and the second largest hydrogen-powered aircraft after the 1988 Soviet flight test of a Tupolev airliner. Tu-155, one of whose jet engines had been converted to burn hydrogen”, comments, not without a touch of pride, Universal Hydrogen.

A modular capsule

The company unveiled in December 2022 the first operational tests of its modular hydrogen delivery system at its engineering center in Toulouse, France. These tests demonstrated a short-term, scalable approach to delivering hydrogen to airports and on the plane, through the use of modular capsule technology. In terms of passenger capacity, between ten and twelve seats are removed to fit between six and eight hydrogen capsules, which represents two to three fewer rows of passenger seats on a Dash 8.

Operating costs

According to Universal Hydrogen, there will therefore be a small impact on the capacity of the aircraft, which will however be offset by very competitive operating costs. This approach, according to Universal Hydrogen, eliminates the need for costly new infrastructure, with any airport capable of handling cargo being hydrogen-ready. It also eliminates transfer losses and dramatically speeds up hydrogen fueling operations, two significant issues for zero-emission fuel.

Reduce emissions

“We are simultaneously offering a pragmatic, short-term solution for hydrogen infrastructure and distribution, as well as the conversion of existing passenger aircraft to use this light, safe and truly zero-carbon fuel. emissions,” said Paul Eremenko, co-founder and CEO of Universal Hydrogen. “The steps taken today are essential and important steps to put the industry on a path to meet the obligations of the Paris Agreement. The only alternative is to curb the growth of air traffic to reduce emissions.”

John Walker Avatar