In March, California-based Universal Hydrogen announced a successful maiden flight of the world’s largest airplane powered by a fuel cell burning hydrogen. In late September, the company began a series of test and demonstration flights to show that hydrogen can be a viable aviation fuel for regional cargo and passenger transport.
Last month’s 20-minute hop took the craft to 5,000 feet. On its return, it cut its conventional engine and cruised on all-hydrogen power to show that planes using that fuel are quieter than those running fossil-fuel engines.
The series of test flights will span two years, during which the company will refine the fuel cell’s design and operation and upgrade hardware. With those additions, the plane should be able to cruise at 25,000 feet, an operational altitude for regional and short-hop flights.
The rollout also will test the company’s patented liquid hydrogen fuel storage technology.
Finally, Universal will begin the process of FAA certification, the last step to commercialization.
Earlier this year, the Federal Aviation Administration issued standards for certifying hydrogen-powered aircraft.
Universal says it has booked 250 orders for its plane and is planning the first deliveries in 2026. The company also is working with partners to develop fuel cells for ground and marine vehicles.
TRENDPOST: Within the limits of current technology, hydrogen won’t be a fuel source for long-haul flights. However, it will find its niche in the fuel mix for short-duration trips in aviation, ground fleets, and ferry boats and similar ships making short trips on fixed routes.