The 19-seat Dornier 228 of ZeroAvia has completed its first test flight in the UK. It serves as a testbed for the company’s emissions-free hydrogen-electric powertrain, which is expected to be certified and used for commercial flights by 2025.
The HyFlyer II initiative, unveiled in June 2021, is a continuation of ZeroAvia’s aggressive campaign to show that hydrogen is the future of aviation. In 2020, the first HyFlyer program launched a six-seater, which at the time was the largest hydrogen-powered aircraft ever to fly. At this point, it has finished more than 30 flights.
When a two-seat test plane lost power and had to make an emergency landing in a field in 2021, the manufacturer made headlines. The plane lost its left wing in a hedge before coming to an “abrupt stop” in a ditch. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and an AAIB investigation later determined that the hydrogen engine was not to blame. Nevertheless, the incident served as a wake-up call and a cautionary tale for future businesses attempting to bring a fast-paced startup ethos to the aviation industry.
One of the two 19-seaters produced by the business has already successfully completed its first test flight, albeit with a more cautious application of the technology. On the right wing, ZeroAvia has kept the stock Honeywell TPE-331 combustion engine, while installing a 600-kW electric motor on the left wing.
The hydrogen tanks, fuel cell stacks, and lithium-ion buffer batteries for this test vehicle are all located inside the cabin, where they can easily view and accessed. In a completely commercial-ready version, the entire powerplant will be retained outside the cabin, most likely in the wing, according to ZeroAvia, which intends to have it ready to submit for certification later this year. By 2025, the business wants to have this 600 kW powertrain fully certified and operating on nine to 19-seat commercial aircraft.
Regional aircraft can use this powertrain, according to the company’s assessment of its range of about 345 miles (556 km). According to Simple Flying, a normal Dornier 228 can carry 19 passengers up to 702 miles (1,130 kilometers). The ES-19 from Sweden’s Heart Aerospace, which claimed 250 miles (402 km) of range before being scrapped in favor of a 40-seat hybrid design with fossil fuel reserves, is the only battery-electric 19-seater we can locate for comparison.
The range numbers for the hydrogen powertrain may not seem very impressive for a clean fuel marketed for its advantages in energy density, but the next step up is already under development. ZeroAvia is developing a 2.5 MW powertrain for 2026 that is intended for aircraft with 40 to 80 seats and has a projected 1,150-mile (1,852-km) range. From then, things will gradually become more complex.