ZeroAvia has successfully performed the first flight of its Dornier Do-228 test aircraft, with one engine powered by an electric motor using electricity from the hydrogen fuel cell system. The flight took place out of Cotswold Airport in Gloucestershire earlier this afternoon on January 19. ZeroAvia Dornier prototype makes its first flight.

The first flight of the Do-228 (registration G-HFZA) only lasted ten minutes from take-off at 1.35 GMT local time and ended with a slightly bumpy landing at Cotswold Airport, where ZeroAvia has its R&D facility. But the flight was nevertheless significant, as it marks the next step in the company’s plans to develop and certify a 19-seater aircraft using hydrogen-electric fuel cells, offering an initial range of 300 miles. Just before Christmas, the Civil Aviation Administration (CAA) granted ZeroAvia a Part 21 permit to start the flight test campaign after the Dornier had successfully done all ground tests.

The starboard engine of the Dornier is a conventional Honeywell TPE-331 turboprop with four propeller blades, but the port engine has been replaced with a 600 kW powertrain that uses five blades. Two fuel cell stacks are integrated into the left wing and use compressed gaseous hydrogen from a storage tank inside the fuselage to produce electricity that is stored in lithium-ion batteries. The power from the batteries is used during take-off and for redundancy.

‘A major moment’

In a press statement, ZeroAvia says that all systems performed as expected. This is a major moment, not just for ZeroAvia, but for the aviation industry as a whole, as it shows that true zero-emission commercial flight is only a few years away. The first flight of our 19-seat aircraft shows just how scalable our technology is and highlights the rapid progress of zero-emission propulsion”, CEO Val Miftakhov says in the release.

The flight is the first of many that ZeroAvia has planned this year at Kemble Airport and other airports to test the prototype configuration and finalize and submit the ZA-600 engine for certification. The target is to have certification done in 2025 so that the technology is mature for use on regional aircraft. Lessons learned will be used for the ZA-2500 motor, which has a power range between 2 and 5 MW that can drive larger aircraft of up to ninety seaters. A 40 to 80-seater with a range of 700 miles should be available in 2027.

The Dornier is part of the HyFlyer II program, the UK’s technology project that is backed by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI). It is a follow-up of HyFlyer I, which started in 2020 using ZeroAvia’s Piper Malibu demonstrator that first flew in 2019 with a 250 kW powertrain. The Malibu was lost for the program in April 2021 after the aircraft crash-landed when both engines stopped working during a transition phase between power sources. The investigation report was critical of how redundancy has been built into the system, which resulted in ZeroAvia taking various steps to make the engine more robust.

ZeroAvia has secured investment backing from United Airlines and American Airlines, which signed conditional purchase agreements for fifty and 100 engines respectively. Both airlines plan to fly the hydrogen-electric engines on their Bombardier/Mitsubishi CRJ regional aircraft by the end of this decade. Alaska Airlines announced a partnership with ZeroAvia in 2021 for the De Havilland Canada Dash 8-400. ZeroAvia says it has won pre-orders for 1.500 engines and has partnerships with seven aircraft manufacturers, including Mitsubishi and De Havilland Canada.

Universal Hydrogen preparing for ground tests

ZeroAvia is not the only company that is developing a hydrogen-electric system. Universal Hydrogen has completed the installation of its system onboard a reconfigured ATR 42. It posted a short video on Twitter on Wednesday showing that the starboard propeller started spinning. Ground tests in Moses Lake are next, to be followed soon by the first flight.

Universal Hydrogen uses replaceable capsules to store the hydrogen in the back of the aircraft. ZeroAvia says that its certified propulsion system will have the tanks outside of the passenger cabin, unlike the current test configuration on the Dornier. Universal Hydrogen announced in October that American Airlines had made a strategic investment in the company.

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Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
In 2022, he has gone full-time freelance. Richard has been contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He is also writing for Airliner World and Aviation News. From January 2023, he will add a part-time role with Dutch website and magazine Luchtvaartnieuws. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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