The UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) is defying claims that a hydrogen-based, long-haul airliner isn’t possible by presenting just that: a concept of a 279-seater aircraft that could go London-San Francisco nonstop. UK’s FlyZero demonstrates midsize hydrogen airliner.

The 12-month ATI program, which is backed with £3.9 billion from the UK government and supported by easyjet, unveiled its medium to long-haul or midsize FlyZero concept on December 6. It flies on green liquid hydrogen and as such is the answer to getting to net-zero emissions, as the aircraft won’t emit any of these gasses. FlyZero is also working on regional and short-haul concepts that together with a technology roadmap are to be released next year.

With a 54-meter wingspan with two turbofans directly burning hydrogen, the midsize FlyZero has a range of 5.250 nautical miles (9.723 kilometers), which from London is enough to serve San Francisco, Vancouver, Rio de Janeiro, Beijing, or Delhi nonstop. Going Down Under to Sydney or Auckland, the aircraft would need a refueling stop as the distance is almost double that of its range.

The range of the FlyZero is about one-third more than what Airbus is thinking of for its ZEROe hydrogen concepts, which officially is 2.000+ nautical miles but could go up to around 4.000 miles. Whereas the initial ZEROe concept is an aircraft with all the liquid hydrogen stored in the aft section of the fuselage, FlyZero has found additional capacity by adding two smaller ‘cheek’ tanks along the forward fuselage. These give the widebody a kind of bulky look.

The cheek tanks will be used as trim tanks to balance the aircraft’s center of gravity. While this simplifies the aerodynamics of the FlyZero, the positioning of the cheek tanks adds complexity to tank installation and plumbing. Notably, the cooling of the hydrogen, which needs to be stored at -253 Celsius to keep it in its liquid form.

Hydrogen airliner takes a lot of challenges

In a September study, FlyZero acknowledged that developing a hydrogen airliner takes a lot of challenges, including the storage and distribution inside the aircraft, aircraft mass, the stable combustion of liquid hydrogen, and the thermal management of hydrogen fuel cells and hybrids. Some of these challenges have been highlighted by others on AirInsight, including German Aerospace Center (DLR), MTU Aero Engines, or Rolls-Royce’s Paul Stein.

As reported yesterday, the new Clean Aviation program of the European Union also includes the research and development of a hydrogen airliner. The UK has been going its own way on this. As project director Chris Gear says: “At a time of global focus on tackling climate change, our midsize concept sets out a truly revolutionary vision for the future of global air travel, keeping families, businesses, and nations connected without the carbon footprint. This new dawn for aviation brings with it real opportunities for the UK aerospace sector to secure market share, highly skilled jobs, and inward investment while helping to meet the UK’s commitments to fight climate change.” It remains to be seen how this translates into funding and future support from airframers, which is crucial for the project to become a reality.

Easyjet has welcomed the FlyZero midsize concept. As Director of Flight Operations David Morgan said in a media statement: “FlyZero’s concept aircraft demonstrates the huge potential of green liquid hydrogen for aviation, including larger gauge aircraft, and I’m very excited to see where we go from here. easyJet is closely involved in the work of the Aerospace Technology Institute and its FlyZero project and we look forward to continuous collaboration to make zero-carbon emission flights a reality as soon as possible.” Easyjet is also involved with Wright Electric to develop a hybrid-electric short-haul airliner and with Airbus on the ZEROe project.

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