The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted Universal Hydrogen a special airworthiness certificate in the experimental category to proceed with the first flight of its hydrogen-powered regional aircraft.
The approval means that the Dash 8-300 flying testbed can now be flown out of the Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Wash.
The Dash 8-300 flying testbed has a megawatt-class hydrogen fuel cell powertrain installed in one of its nacelles, allowing it to run on zero-carbon-emitting hydrogen. The powertrain is in a configuration that closely resembles the company’s first product – a conversion kit for ATR 72-600 regional airliners. The kit allows ATR 72-600 aircraft to run on hydrogen instead of traditional fuel. The Southern California-based aerospace startup expects it to be certified and ready for commercial passenger service by 2025.
Unlike most of its hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered peers, Universal Hydrogen’s aircraft does not utilize a hybrid battery architecture. Instead, all of the power is transmitted directly from the fuel cells to the electric motor, significantly decreasing weight and lifecycle cost.
According to the company, upon successful completion of its upcoming first flight, Universal Hydrogen’s 40+ passenger Dash 8-300 will be the largest hydrogen fuel cell-powered aircraft to ever fly. Also, it will be second as a hydrogen-powered aircraft only to the Soviet flight test in 1988 of a Tupolev Tu-155 airliner with one of its jet engines converted to burn hydrogen.
“We are simultaneously providing a pragmatic, near-term solution for hydrogen infrastructure and delivery, as well as for converting existing passenger aircraft to use this lightweight, safe, and true-zero-emissions fuel,” said Paul Eremenko, co-founder and CEO of Universal Hydrogen. “Today’s milestones are essential, important steps to putting the industry on a trajectory to meet Paris Agreement obligations. The only alternative is curtailing aviation traffic growth to curb emissions.”