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UK sees first passenger electric aircraft flight

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty





Hydrogen electric aircraft developer ZeroAvia has made its first commercial test flight, the first of an electric aircraft in the UK

The multi-circuit test flight for the Project HyFlyer from the airfield at Cranfield was in a Piper M-class six-seater aircraft. This is a key step in the project to demonstrate the new version of the powertrain that was first flown last year. 

“Today’s flight is the latest in a series of milestones that moves the possibility of zero emission flight closer to reality,” said Val Miftakhov, ZeroAvia Founder and CEO. “We all want the aviation industry to come back after the pandemic on a firm footing to be able to move to a net zero future, with a green recovery. That will not be possible without realistic, commercial options for zero emission flight, something we will bring to market as early as 2023.”

He says the hydrogen-electric approach offers the same zero-emission potential of battery-electric but has a much more promising energy-to-weight ratio. A hydrogen powertrain also has a lower operating cost as batteries have to be replaced more regularly in regional aircraft that are used constantly, he adds.

The company is developing a certified 10-20 seat aircraft that will be ready to go within three years, and a 50-100 seat version in flight by the end of the decade. The company projects that aircraft over 200 seats with a range in excess of 3,000 nautical miles is achievable by 2040 without requiring any fundamental scientific breakthroughs. 

Longer distance electric test flights are planned for later this summer, and a hydrogen refuelling system has recently been commissioned at the airfield alongside Cranfield University. ZeroAvia has completed a full set of ground-based full-power flight simulations for its long-distance hydrogen flights. 

The HyFlyer project is funded through Innovate UK and the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI)-led Aerospace R&T programme. “The ATI is delighted to see the first flight of ZeroAvia’s battery-electric aircraft at Cranfield,” said Dr Simon Weeks, Chief Technology Officer, ATI. “This exciting ATI funded project is the next step in an effort to develop a commercial zero emissions hydrogen fuel cell powered commercial aircraft in the UK.”

The project will culminate in a 250-300 nautical mile flight from the Orkney Islands in Scotland. ZeroAvia is working with the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) for the development of the infrastructure needed to fuel the aircraft with green hydrogen, at Cranfield and on Orkney. Fuel cell engineering company Intelligent Energy is optimising its proprietary high-power evaporatively cooled fuel cell technology for aviation use.

www.zeroavia.com; www.emec.org.uk/hydrogen  

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