|A shot of the demonstrator in 2003.|
Sunday Times (London). Boeing hopes its light-aircraft prototype powered by a hydrogen fuel cell will make its maiden flight within the next 12 months, according to a report in the Sunday Times.
Boeing began work on the project in 2002. Led by the Boeing Research and Technology Center in Madrid, Spain, the project includes Intelligent Energy (UK), Diamond Aircraft Industries (Austria), the Spanish companies Sener and Aerlyper, and Advanced Technology Products (ATP), from the United States.
Diamond Aircraft of Austria is supplying the demonstrator airplane, based on a certified Katana Xtreme motor-glider (in Europe called the Super Dimona); Intelligent Energy of the United Kingdom is providing the Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cell hardware and technical support; Sener will design and build a fuel cell controller unit to be used in research activities; Aerlyper will integrate the electric motor into the airplane and perform airframe modification work; and ATP will supply a UQM motor, batteries, and controllers to complete the electric propulsion system, and perform the flight testing of the airplane.
In addition to the five partners involved, two Spanish universities are also collaborating in this project. The Polytechnic University of Madrid will test a sub-scale version of the fuel cells that will power the demonstrator airplane and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia will work to understand the possible failure modes of this completely new form of airborne electrical power generation.
Dr Jon Moore, director of communications at Intelligent Energy, based in Loughborough, Leicestershire, said technological advances were now making such devices far lighter and cheaper, but aviation remained the biggest challenge.
“The secret lies in making a fuel cell powerful enough to get an aircraft off the ground and to keep it climbing,” he said. “That takes a huge amount of energy and it is a big obstacle.”
Boeing has overcome this by backing up the fuel cell with batteries that provide extra power for take-off and then recharge while the aircraft is cruising.
In July 2005 AeroVironment, a California company, flew an unmanned surveillance plane powered by a fuel cell. (Earlier post.)