Engineers at GKN Aerospace have successfully achieved a major milestone delivering a ground-based demonstrator of a liquid hydrogen aircraft fuel system. The demonstrator was designed, built, and tested in collaboration with Filton Systems Engineering under the UK-funded Safe Flight project.
The goal of the project was to investigate the feasibility of using a liquid hydrogen fuel source to increase the endurance of a search and rescue uncrewed aerial system (UAS) concept. The project enabled GKN to understand and address many of the safety concerns raised by the introduction of such a novel fuel. Integrated fuel tank design and distribution solutions were developed, including vaporization and conditioning of the liquid hydrogen.
The team verified the performance of the fuel system by coupling it with a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell stack, representative of the type that could be installed on a future zero-emission aircraft. The project demonstrated successful storage and management of liquid hydrogen, supplying the fuel cell power system with hydrogen at the required temperature and pressure over a range of electrical loads typical of a UAS search and rescue mission.
The key outcomes of the project include the development of safe system design, manufacturing knowledge, operational knowledge for liquid hydrogen fuel systems, hydrogen fuel system test data, and an adaptable test rig suited to further study of hydrogen components and subsystems.
“We are delighted with the outcome of this project and believe we are very much at the forefront of exploring the challenges in this area,” said Max Brown, VP Technology GKN Aerospace. “In a single end-end test environment, the team has demonstrated fuelling and storage of liquid hydrogen, conditioning and distribution of cryogenic gas, and the use of PEM fuel cells to generate electrical power.” Brown continued, “while the focus of this work was on a small scale platform, the achievement is highly aligned with other work we are conducting in programs such as H2GEAR, where we are delivering propulsion technologies focussed on enabling zero emissions flight.”
The Safe Flight project has positioned GKN Aerospace for larger and more complex demonstrations of hydrogen-powered aircraft in the future as the company continues to pursue its mission to become “the most trusted and sustainable partner in the sky.”