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Hydrogen-powered airplane revs up for flight tests

Is hydrogen the green aviation fuel of the future? An industry team led by California-based Universal Hydrogen is testing out that proposition amid the scrublands of central Washington state.

Universal Hydrogen is readying its converted De Havilland Dash 8-300 turboprop plane for initial flight tests later this year at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Wash., with an assist from Washington state partners including Seattle-based AeroTEC and Everett-based MagniX.

Last week, Universal Hydrogen announced that it spun up the propeller on the plane’s MagniX-built electric motor powered completely by hydrogen fuel for the first time. This week, “Lightning McClean” is set to start ground testing in earnest.

“We’ll run the powertrain on the ground with the aircraft static … up to maximum power,” Mark Cousin, Universal Hydrogen’s chief technology officer, told me. “Once we’re happy with the behavior of the system, we will then move into taxi testing and the buildup to flight.”

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Boeing wins $425M from NASA for fuel-efficient plane

NASA says it’ll give Boeing $425 million over the next seven years for the development and flight testing of a new breed of fuel-efficient airplane with ultra-thin wings.

The innovative airplane design could produce fuel savings of up to 30%, and blaze the trail for the aviation industry’s effort to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. “If we are successful, we may see these technologies in planes that the public takes to the skies in the 2030s,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a news release.

Boeing’s Transonic Truss-Based Wing concept, or TTBW, involves building an aircraft with extra-long, extra-thin wings that spread over the top of the fuselage. Extra stabilization would be provided by diagonal struts attached beneath the fuselage.

One configuration calls for foldable wings that are 170 feet wide — which is 27 feet shorter than the wingspan of a 787 Dreamliner but 53 feet wider than the wingspan of a 737 MAX 8.

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Mexican airline signs up for 30 Eviation electric planes

Arlington, Wash.-based Eviation Aircraft added to its multibillion-dollar order book with a letter of intent from Mexico-based Aerus to purchase 30 of its all-electric Alice airplanes. Aerus is scheduled to start regional service later this year, with Monterrey as its regional hub, but it will have to wait several years for Eviation’s nine-passenger commuter planes to be delivered.

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The year in aerospace: Why 2022 could be Year One

A few years from now, we just might look back at 2022 as Year One for a new age in aerospace: It was the year when NASA’s next-generation space telescope delivered the goods, when NASA’s moon rocket aced its first flight test, and when an all-electric passenger plane built from the ground up took to the skies.

I’ve been rounding up the top stories in space on an annual basis for 25 years now (starting with the Mars Pathfinder mission in 1997), and 2022 ranks among the biggest years when it comes to opening up new frontiers on the final frontier. The best thing about these frontier-opening stories — especially the James Webb Space Telescope and the Artemis moon program — is that the best is yet to come.

Check out my top-five list for the big stories of the past year, plus five aerospace trends to watch in the year ahead.

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Air New Zealand makes plans for electric planes

Air New Zealand has signed a letter of intent to order up to 23 all-electric Alice aircraft from Arlington, Wash.-based Eviation as part of its Mission NextGen Aircraft program to accelerate the switch to zero-emission flights. The deal makes Air New Zealand the first national flag carrier to put in a reservation for the nine-seater Alice.

In a statement, Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran said Eviation’s Alice is a “natural fit” for the airline’s plan to decarbonize its domestic flights, starting in 2026. An Alice prototype went through its first flight test in September, and Eviation plans to put the plane into service by 2027. Other electric aircraft manufacturers teaming up with Air New Zealand include BetaCranfield Aerospace and VoltAero.

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Boeing’s last 747 has left the building

Nearly 55 years after Boeing started production of its jumbo 747 jet, the last model of the iconic airplane left the company’s factory in Everett, Wash., closing a chapter in aviation history.

“For more than half a century, tens of thousands of dedicated Boeing employees have designed and built this magnificent airplane that has truly changed the world,” Kim Smith, Boeing’s vice president and general manager for 747 and 767 programs, said in a statement after Tuesday night’s rollout.

Workers and VIPs gathered at the Boeing plant to watch the plane, wrapped in a green protective skin, emerge from the giant assembly building. The 747-8 will go on to other facilities for painting and fitting-out, with delivery to Atlas Air scheduled in early 2023. Atlas plans to operate the cargo freighter as well as the second-last 747 to be delivered for Kuehne + Nagel, a Swiss logistics company.

Back in the 1960s, Boeing engineer Joe Sutter designed the 747, the world’s first twin-aisle airplane, to carry 400 passengers or more on long-haul flights. Production began in 1967, and the first plane entered service with Pan Am in 1970.

For decades, the 747 was celebrated as the “Queen of the Skies” — and it played supporting roles in movies ranging from “Airport ’77” and “Air Force One” to the 2020 sci-fi movie “Tenet.” More than 1,500 of the planes were produced.

But as the aviation industry came to focus on fuel efficiency and point-to-point route planning, the business model for the passenger 747 became obsolete. In recent years, the 747 has increasingly been used for cargo rather than passengers, and the baton has been passed to other wide-body jets such as the 767, 777, 787 and 777x.

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Australian airline orders electric planes for the Outback

It’s only fitting that 20 of Eviation’s all-electric Alice commuter airplanes are destined to be based in Alice Springs.

That’s the upshot of the Arlington, Wash.-based company’s deal with Northern Territory Air Services, a scheduled airline and charter aircraft operator that’s headquartered in the town known as the capital of the Australian Outback.

“Australia is recognized around the world for its breathtaking scenery, and adopting carbon-free technologies is fundamental to preserving the environment for future generations,” Ian Scheyer, the CEO of NTAS, said today in a news release announcing a letter of intent to acquire the planes. “Eviation’s all-electric Alice aircraft provides us with the opportunity to chart a sustainable path forward in connecting communities across the country.”

Alice is designed to take on flights ranging from 150 to 250 miles — which fits the parameters for many of NTAS’ flights. Scheyer said electric aviation will make it possible for his company to provide “cost-effective and convenient passenger and cargo flights across the Outback.”

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MagniX adds hydrogen to its carbon-free aviation menu

MagniX has been working on electric propulsion systems for years, but now the Everett, Wash.-based venture is adding hydrogen fuel cells to its power repertoire for carbon-free flight.

The expansion plan follows up on MagniX’s partnership with Universal Hydrogen, announced two years ago, and on last month’s initial flight test of an all-electric Eviation airplane equipped with MagniX’s 650-kilowatt motors.

Last year, MagniX and Universal Hydrogen said they’d work with Plug Power and AeroTEC to create a Hydrogen Aviation Test and Service Center at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Wash., where the Eviation flight test took place.

Today MagniX said it would start developing hydrogen fuel cells to complement its battery electric and hybrid electric propulsion systems.

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Evia Aero plans to buy 25 Eviation all-electric airplanes

Arlington, Wash.-based Eviation Aircraft says Evia Aero, a nascent European regional airline that’s based in Germany, has signed a letter of intent to purchase 25 of Eviation’s all-electric commuter Alice aircraft.

The airline hasn’t yet gone into service, but it eventually intends to use the nine-passenger Alice planes as its primary aircraft for point-to-point regional travel within Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands.

“Together with Eviation, a pioneer of electric flight, we will introduce a fleet of zero-emission aircraft that will transform the way we experience regional travel in Europe,” Florian Kruse, founder and CEO of Evia Aero, said today in a news release. “We are deeply committed to holistically transforming the aviation industry by implementing a complete cycle of local energy generation, storage, and flight operations.”

Gregory Davis, Eviation’s president and CEO, hailed Evia Aero’s commitment to electric air travel. “The creation of an all-electric European commuter fleet of Alice aircraft will advance an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable future of flight,” Davis said.

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Eviation’s all-electric plane aces its first flight test

MOSES LAKE, Wash. — After years of on-the-ground development, Eviation’s all-electric Alice airplane quietly took to the air here this morning for its first test flight.

Test pilot Steve Crane guided the nine-passenger aircraft, powered by two 640-kilowatt electric motors, through its takeoff from Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, a facility in Eastern Washington’s high desert that’s often used for testing innovations in aviation.

When the motors revved up, they sounded like electric grass trimmers. And when the plane flew overhead, the noise was more like a hum than a roar.

Alice flew for lasted eight minutes and reached a maximum altitude of 3,500 feet before landing safely back at the airport.

So how was the ride? “It was wonderful,” Crane said. “It handled just like we thought it would. Very responsive, very quick to the throttle, and it came on in for a wonderful landing. I couldn’t be happier.”