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Hydrogen-fueled plane wins FAA flight clearance

Universal Hydrogen says its hydrogen-fueled test aircraft has won a key certification from regulators and has completed its first taxi tests at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Wash.

Those two developments bring the California-based company closer to the first flight of its modified De Havilland Dash 8-300 aircraft, nicknamed “Lightning McClean.” The plane’s right engine has been replaced with a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain, featuring an electric motor built by Everett, Wash.-based MagniX.

Seattle-based AeroTEC is handling the engineering work for the conversion, while New York-based Plug Power is providing the fuel cells. The Pratt & Whitney engine on the left side of the plane has been kept intact as a backup for flight tests.

Lightning McClean won a special airworthiness certificate in the experimental category from the Federal Aviation Administration — which is a prerequisite for flight testing. Universal Hydrogen hasn’t provided a development timeline, but the first flight could come within the next few months if ground testing goes well.

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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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Aviation vision fueled by hydrogen and electricity

Redmond, Wash.-based MagniX says it’s partnering with a Los Angeles startup called Universal Hydrogen to retrofit 40-passenger regional aircraft with carbon-free, hydrogen-fueled electric powertrains.

The partnership opens up a new frontier for MagniX, which is already involved in flight tests for all-electric versions of smaller airplanes such as the de Havilland Beaver (for Vancouver, B.C.-based Harbour Air) and the Cessna Grand Caravan.

This time, MagniX and Universal Hydrogen aim to transform the de Havilland Canada DHC8-Q300, better known as the Dash 8. The Dash 8 is a time-honored twin turboprop traditionally used for commercial regional air service. If the project succeeds, the lessons learned can be applied for the development of retrofit conversion kits for the wider ATR 42 family of aircraft.

Universal Hydrogen’s plan for the Dash 8 calls for MagniX to provide an electric propulsion system in the 2-megawatt class for each wing, powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

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