GKN Aerospace achieved a major milestone in 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 Innovate UK-funded Safe Flight project. The project aims 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 enables GKN to understand and address many safety concerns raised by introducing such a novel fuel. Integrated fuel tank design and distribution solutions were developed, including vaporization and conditioning of the liquid hydrogen. The fuel system’s performance was verified by coupling it with a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell stack, representing 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 various electrical loads typical of a UAS search and rescue mission.
From concept to operation, the demonstrator was delivered within 12 months. This is an impressive project that shows promise. Hydrogen is seen by many as the next step after SAF to power longer-range aircraft. Although this test is on a ground-based system, it is an important step towards moving hydrogen into an aircraft-based solution.
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