By Fangzhong Guo
ZeroAvia Completes First Hydrogen-Powered Flight
ZeroAvia’s modified 19-seat Dornier 228 twin-engine aircraft took to the sky in testbed configuration for the first flight as part of the HyFlyer II project. The airplane was retrofitted with a full-size prototype hydrogen-electric powertrain on the aircraft’s left wing.
The flight took place from the company’s R&D facility at Cotswold Airport in Gloucestershire, U.K. and lasted 10 minutes. The aircraft completed taxi, take-off, a full pattern circuit and landing. The landmark flight forms part of the HyFlyer II project, a major R&D program backed by the UK Government’s flagship ATI Programme, which targets the development of a 600kW powertrain to support 9-19 seat aircraft worldwide with zero-emission flight.
The Hollister, Calif.-based company is also working on a similar conversion in its U.S. bases. It acquired a Dornier 228 from the defunct Vision Air in 2022. However, after a brief media appearance at its new home, the airplane returned to its base in Las Vegas.
While it makes sense to keep the plane at a location with a known maintenance facility, there’s no clear evidence the plane is receiving retrofits.
The company is also in rapid expansion mode. In addition to its Hollister and Kemble, UK site, it’s also hiring many engineers for its Seattle office. The Hollister-based company opened its Seattle office after inking a deal with Alaska Airlines Group for a conversion kit for the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400. However, the Seattle-based airline is conducting its last Q400 revenue flight this week on January 26.
In the meantime, AeroTEC and Universal Hydrogen are also actively working toward the first flight of a hydrogen-powered Bombardier Dash 8-300. The Dash 8-300 is a 50-seat airplane, significantly larger than the Dornier 228 that ZeroAvia flew. The Universal Hydrogen modification also only applies to a single side on the twin-engine aircraft.
The duo aimed to complete the first flight before the end of the year last year. However, that date has since slipped to January of 2023. The company’s social media has been posting pictures of the modification and engine run-up. Its social media also hinted taxi footage coming soon, which would be the last hurdle to clear before the first flight.
The Hawthorne, Cali.-based company is also working on retrofitting an ATR in Europe as a proving ground for operational testing regarding hydrogen fuel.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the aviation industry is pivoting toward hydrogen-electric for mainline applications in the future. In the US, the four major traditional airlines have invested in Hydrogen fuel in one way or another. United Airlines, American Airlines and Alaska Airlines all invested in ZeroAvia, while American also has a working relationship with Universal Hydrogen. Delta Air Lines is working directly with Airbus on pulling forward the future of hydrogen fuel.
Both Airbus and Embraer are working on designs for a hydrogen-powered future. That leaves Boeing alone to focus on Sustainable Aviation Fuel and gaining significant efficiency improvement through aerodynamics.