Universal Hydrogen’s historic flight paves the way for zero-emission aviation with hydrogen fuel cell technology
Universal Hydrogen recently made history by flying the world’s largest hydrogen fuel cell-powered airplane. The airplane, dubbed “Lightning McClean,” carried 40 passengers and took off from the Grant County International Airport, reaching an altitude of 3,500 MSL.
The flight, conducted under an FAA Special Airworthiness Certificate, was the first in a two-year flight test campaign. The company’s goal is to enter passenger service of ATR 72 regional aircraft converted to run on hydrogen in 2025. The flight was witnessed by representatives from Connect Airlines and Amelia, the US and European launch customers for the hydrogen airplanes, respectively.
Hydrogen fuel cell technology
Universal Hydrogen’s powertrain uses Plug Power’s ProGen family of fuel cells, specially modified for aviation use. It does not use a battery, with the fuel cells driving the electric motor directly, thus reducing weight and cost.
The motor, a modified magni650 electric propulsion unit, and power electronics were supplied by Everett-based magniX.
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Seattle-based AeroTEC assisted with engineering efforts, including design of the modified nacelle structure, aircraft systems design and integration, as well as aircraft modifications and installation of the Universal Hydrogen powertrain onto the flight test aircraft.
Hydrogen airplanes and infrastructure
Universal Hydrogen is developing both hydrogen airplanes and hydrogen infrastructure in parallel. The airplanes are converted to hydrogen using an aftermarket retrofit conversion kit, tackling the existing fleet rather than developing a brand new airplane. And hydrogen fueling uses modular capsules compatible with existing freight networks and airport cargo handling equipment, making every airport in the world hydrogen-ready.
Universal Hydrogen is backed by GE Aerospace, Airbus Ventures, Toyota Ventures, JetBlue Ventures, and American Airlines, as well as several of the world’s largest green hydrogen producers and top-tier financial investors.
Universal Hydrogen plans to springboard from regional airplanes to larger ones and to hydrogen fuel deliveries for other mobility applications using its modular logistics network. The hydrogen-powered airplane is not just a revolutionary new product; it is a symbol of hope and progress for the future of aviation.