Test flight confirms the UK as major player in aerospace and could place the country in the vanguard of sustainable aviation.
The world’s first flight of a commercial-grade aircraft powered by a hydrogen fuel cell has taken place, with a six-seater Piper Malibu plane taking off from Cranfield University’s airport. Val Miftakhov, CEO of the start-up, was one of the pilots on the eight minute flight reaching 1,000ft and 100 knots.
The flight was used to demonstrate the viability of the ZeroAvia’s 800-volt emission-free powertrain, which turns hydrogen into electricity to drive the Piper’s propellor. So, zero harmful carbon emissions. It was the culmination of a two year, £5.5m venture funded jointly by Mr Miftakhov, private investors and the British government.
The Piper was fuelled with 4lb 6oz of hydrogen gas for the flight, which is run through a “stack” that converts it into electricity with the only byproducts being water and heat. The hydrogen-electric power system replaced the aircraft’s existing petrol-powered internal combustion engine. Now ZeroAvia is planning a series of demonstration flights with 33lb of fuel, which should give the aircraft a range of 300 miles and performance comparable to a conventional engine.
Within three years ZeroAvia, which is based at Cranfield having relocated from the US in 2019, aims to be building power systems in the UK for 20-seat regional aircraft with ranges of 500 miles, and by 2025 will have larger version suitable for 100-seat airliners.
According to the company’s calculations, an aircraft the size of a Boeing 737 can easily carry enough of the gas to give it a range of 4,000 miles. Mr Miftakhov said: “We chose to set up in the UK because in Europe there is a better understanding of sustainability than in North America. There is a great ecosystem here, with technology, industry and a government which is backing environmentally friendly aviation."
“In the UK we have the Jet Zero Council which wants to have truly zero-emissions aviation, not carbon offsetting.”