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First Hydrogen Plane Takes Off

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.”

Source: Telegraph

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