UH2 Cleared To Fly Dash 8 Hydrogen-Electric Testbed

Taxi testing of the Dash 8-300 is underway at Moses Lake, Washington, with a 1-megawatt fuel cell powertrain in the left nacelle.

Credit: Universal Hydrogen

Universal Hydrogen has received an FAA experimental airworthiness certificate for its De Havilland Canada Dash 8-300 flying testbed, clearing the way for its first flight fitted with a megawatt-scale hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system.

The 1-megawatt powertrain demonstrator is installed in a modified nacelle with large air inlets on either side to cool the fuel cells, supplied by Plug Power, and electric motor, supplied by MagniX. As its first product, Universal Hydrogen (UH2) is developing a 2-megawatt powertrain for retrofit to the ATR 72-600 regional airliner. Work on the ATR conversion is underway in Toulouse.

Taxi testing at AeroTEC’s flight test center in Moses Lake, Washington, is evaluating ground handling and performance of the powertrain at low power settings and airspeeds.

When it takes to the air, the modified Dash 8 will be the largest hydrogen-electric aircraft yet to fly. Rival startup ZeroAvia began flight tests of a 600-kW fuel cell powertrain in a Dornier 228 testbed in the UK on Jan. 19.

Unlike ZeroAvia’s demonstrator, where half the power comes from fuel cells and half from a battery, UH2 says its powertrain does not use a hybrid battery architecture, with all of the power transmitted directly from the fuel cells to the electric motor. ZeroAvia plans to dispense with the battery for its production system. Both demonstrator aircraft are using pressurized gaseous hydrogen storage.

In addition to the powertrain retrofit, UH2 is developing a hydrogen logistics system using modular capsules and the existing freight network to deliver hydrogen to airports and into aircraft. “This eliminates the need for costly new infrastructure, with any airport capable of handling cargo being hydrogen-ready,” the startup says, adding the system also eliminates transfer losses and speeds up hydrogen refueling.

In December, UH2 conducted the first operational tests of its modular hydrogen delivery system at its engineering center in Toulouse. It used its ATR 72 test aircraft to show how standard air freight containers can be used to transport its capsules from the hydrogen production site to the airport, then return them after use for refilling. 

Graham Warwick

Graham leads Aviation Week's coverage of technology, focusing on engineering and technology across the aerospace industry, with a special focus on identifying technologies of strategic importance to aviation, aerospace and defense.