Fuel cell plane completes maiden flight

Fuel cell plane completes maiden flight

The HY4, the world’s first airplane powered solely by hydrogen fuel cells, has taken off for a short test flight. Though the flight did not last for much more than ten minutes, the developer team regards it as a success: With the flight, the plane has proved that emission-free flight is feasible.
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

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During its flight from the Stuttgart airport on September 29, the HY4 carried a crew of two along with two simulated passengers. The plane’s power train has been developed by scientists from the German aerospace research institution DLR, the University of Ulm, and Hydrogenics, a Canadian expert company for fuel cell technology. The somewhat unconventional design of the airframe with two separate bodies has been contributed by Slovenian glider plane company Pipistrel.

The powertrain consists of a hydrogen storage element, a low-temperature hydrogen fuel cell and a high-performance battery. The fuel cell converts the inherent energy of hydrogen directly into electric energy, with water being the only waste product. The electric energy generated by the fuel cell in turn drives the propeller of the airplane. The on-board battery provides additional energy for take-off and climbing. If the hydrogen used is generated through electrolysis which in turn is powered by renewable energy systems, the entire power chain from well to propeller is completely emission-free.

This photo illustrates the rather
unconventional design of the HY4

The electric motor of the HY4 has 80 kW, an equivalent of 109 horsepowers. It accelerates the plane to a maximum speed of 200 kmph and a cruising speed of 165 kmph. Depending on load, speed and altitude the plane has a range of 750 to 1500 kilometers.

Though large commercial airplanes will be powered conventionally throughout the foreseeable future, it will be major item list on the DLR’s agenda to bring electromobility into the air, explained André Thess, director if the DLR institute for technical thermodynamics. “Our goal is it to further improve the fuel cell power train,” he said, adding that the long-term goal is developing such a powertrain for a commuter airplane for up to 19 passengers. Towards this end, the DLR is maintaining collaborations with Airbus Group, Siemens, as well as more than a dozen research institutes.  

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