Universal Hydrogen Co., whose mission is to make hydrogen aviation a near-term reality, announced it was granted a special airworthiness certificate in the experimental category by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to proceed with the first flight of its hydrogen-powered regional aircraft. The company also released video footage of successful first taxi tests of the aircraft, designed to evaluate ground handling qualities and the performance of the fuel-cell electric powertrain at low power settings and airspeeds.
The Dash 8-300 flying testbed has a megawatt-class hydrogen fuel cell powertrain installed in one of its nacelles. The powertrain is in a configuration that closely resembles the company’s first product—a conversion kit for ATR 72-600 regional airliners—which is expected to be certified and in commercial passenger service starting in 2025. Notably, Universal Hydrogen’s powertrain does not utilize a hybrid battery architecture—a major innovation—with all of the power transmitted directly from the fuel cells to the electric motor, significantly decreasing weight and lifecycle cost.
The FAA approval clears the way for the first flight of the Dash 8-300 flying testbed which will take place at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Washington. The aircraft will be by far the largest hydrogen fuel cell-powered airplane to take to the skies, and 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.
Universal Hydrogen unveiled in December 2022 first operational tests of its modular hydrogen delivery system at its engineering center in Toulouse, France. Those tests demonstrated a pragmatic, near-term, and highly scalable approach to hydrogen delivery to airports and into aircraft using modular capsule technology. This eliminates the need for costly new infrastructure, with any airport capable of handling cargo being hydrogen-ready. It also eliminates transfer losses and significantly speeds up hydrogen fueling operations—both significant pain points for the zero-emissions fuel.