A prototype aircraft with a hydrogen-fueled powertrain successfully completed an initial 15-minute flight today at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Wash., marking a significant step for zero-emission aviation.
Los Angeles-based Universal Hydrogen had the 40-passenger De Havilland Dash 8-300 turboprop converted to use hydrogen to power an electric propulsion system mounted on the plane’s right wing. The system incorporates a fuel cell built by Plug Power and a megawatt-class motor built by Everett, Wash.-based MagniX. Seattle-based AeroTEC assisted with the engineering for the conversion.
The engine on the left side was left unconverted to serve as a backup in case the hydrogen-based system encountered problems.
Universal Hydrogen and its partners worked in Moses Lake for months to get the plane — nicknamed Lightning McClean — ready for today’s first aerial tryout, conducted under the conditions of an experimental airworthiness certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The flight began at 8:41 a.m. PT and reached a maximum altitude of 3,500 feet. “We were able to throttle back the fossil-fuel turbine engine to demonstrate cruise principally on hydrogen power,” test pilot Alex Kroll said in a news release. “The airplane handled beautifully, and the noise and vibrations from the fuel cell powertrain are significantly lower than from the conventional turbine engine.”