What goes up…must first prove its brute strength on the ground.
ZeroAvia, a leading innovator in decarbonizing commercial aviation, tested its 600-kilowatt flight-intent system aircraft engine at its headquarters in Hollister, California, on August 10. The f hydrogen-electric powertrain pulled a 15-ton mobile unit known as a HyperTruck across the tarmac. Heavy-duty military trucks inspired the design of the HyperTruck, which tests 40- to 80-seat hydrogen-electric-powered aircraft that rely on ZeroAvia’s powertrain. Historically, the powertrain has hauled a fraction of that weight, namely the company’s 19-seat aircraft.
Development on the engine began in late 2020 as part of the HyFlyer II program, and the HyperTruck haul is the first major milestone for this project. Ground tests of the flight-intent system show that the HyFlyer II program is on track to deliver a hydrogen-electric, zero-emission propulsion system for airframes—or airplane frames without its propulsion or instrumentation systems—with 10 to 20 seats.
What ZeroAvia Learned From the Test
ZeroAvia’s CEO Val Miftakhov describes the test as an “important [step] in reaching [the company’s] next major goal of flight testing in [its] 19-seat aircraft in both the U.S. and U.K. [Dornier 228]-based prototypes.” ZeroAvia plans to conduct test flights of Dornier aircraft that use this engine by year-end in the company’s U.K. facility.
“The Hollister [California] testing is a significant milestone for our new HyperTruck testbed and ZA-600 that also confirms the operation of our next-generation control system and software,” says Gabe DeVault, ZeroAvia’s head of testing and applications. “Our U.S. team is excited to support the important work of our colleagues in the U.K. and ultimately scaling up our proven hydrogen fuel cell integration for larger commercial aircraft engines, which the HyperTruck supports.”
A Historic Hydrogen Fuel Flight
ZeroAvia completed the world’s first commercial-grade, hydrogen-electric flight in September 2020. The six-seat Piper Malibu M350 performed a taxi, takeoff, full circuit, and landing at ZeroAvia’s former R&D facility in Cranfield, England. The company equipped the aircraft with a smaller version of their hydrogen fuel cell powertrain.
This achievement is one of the first steps in the transition toward zero-emission hydrogen as the primary energy source in commercial aviation. The company is zooming toward a future in which hydrogen-fueled aircraft will eventually overtake fossil fuel aircraft in distance and payload.
This flight followed the first battery-electric flight on a commercial scale, which took place in June 2020 using the same aircraft as the HyFlyer I project.
ZeroAvia Secures Grant Funding
ZeroAvia secured £12.3 million, or about $16.8 million, in funding for HyFlyer II from the U.K. government through the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) program.
The latest ATI grant involves ZeroAvia’s collaboration with two partners, Aeristech and European Marine Energy Centre. This program’s goal is to deliver a certifiable 19-seat hydrogen-electric powered aircraft for the commercial market by 2024. It will conclude with a 350-mile flight with the test aircraft and powertrain before that date.
While ZeroAvia’s 600kW hydrogen-electric powertrain is platform-agnostic—meaning it is compatible with any airframe—the commercial significance is that it’s the same size as the other powertrains present within 19-seat aircraft like the Cessna 208 Caravan and Viking Air DHC-6 Twin Otter. Both models are commonplace in regional passenger and cargo transport.
A Zero-Emission Flight Movement
ZeroAvia is a leader in zero-emission aviation that currently focuses on the development of hydrogen-electric aircraft engines. These engines will initially target commercial passenger aircraft with 9 to 19 seats and a range of 500 miles. However, ZeroAvia says it will eventually expand into other aviation markets, such as agriculture and cargo.
ZeroAvia has research facilities in the U.K. and the U.S. and has obtained certificates for experimental aircraft from the CAA and FAA.