|The Rapid 200-FC in an aircraft braking test. Click to enlarge.|
The Environmentally Friendly Inter-City Aircraft powered by Fuel Cells (ENFICA-FC) project, led by Turin Polytechnic University, is ready for flight-testing its fuel-cell powered, manned inter-city aircraft. (Earlier post.)
The first high speed taxiing tests were successfully carried out on the Rapid 200-FC aircraft between 10 to 18 December of last year. The next step for the European team, coordinated by Professor Giulio Romeo of the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the Politecnico di Torino, will involve obtaining the flight permit and then conducting the first test flight.
…the objective is that of building an aeroplane that works on hydrogen, taking advantage of the fuel cell technology at present available to create a demonstrator aircraft that is able to connect cities through flights while totally eliminating the environmental impact. The work plan financed by the EC is divided into two stages: modification of a light-weight two-seater airplane with an electric engine completely supplied by hydrogen; the test flights on this are aimed at identifying the technical advantages and improvements in performance obtained with the new generation electrical energy.
At the same time, more theoretical type studies have been carried out (in collaboration with the Israel Aircraft Industry, Université Libre de Bruxelles and Evektor (CZ) partners). These will not have an immediate practical application in the initial stages because of the present technological limits, but have the aim of using zero emission propellers in the future to equip aircraft for 20-30 passengers in the regional and intercity sector.
—Professor Giulio Romeo
The current Rapid 200-FC aircraft has an entirely electric 40 kW propeller. Power is supplied to the propeller through 20 kW hydrogen fuel cells; gaseous hydrogen is stored at 350 bar onboard. The airplane also has a second source of energy that consists of a set of 20 kW lithium polymer batteries which are able to guarantee alternative or supplementary power during take off and initial climbing.
The PEM fuel cell delivers 100-110 Amps of electrical current at 200-240 V, plus air and water vapor emitted at environmental temperature.
The aircraft (the final lay-out of which was achieved with the technical assistance of the Italian Skyleader importer T&T Ultralight) has a wing span of about 10 meters. With the current systems, the airplane has autonomy of 1 hour and can reach a cruising speed of 150-180 km/h (93-112 mph), using hydrogen alone.
The entire electric and energy system underwent laboratory testing on a bench model in the first six months of 2009, in collaboration with the Department of Electrical Systems and Automation at the University of Pisa. The starting up, functioning under power and taxiing tests of the aircraft were carried out along the 1,400 meter runway at the Reggio Emilia airport over the last few weeks.
The aircraft and the electric and energy system were developed according to a design by Professor Romeo, and tuned by the ENFICA-FC team, which includes:
- Politecnico di Torino (IT) (Design of the modified aircraft and experimental test flights)
- Skyleader (CZ) (manufacturer of the aircraft)
- Intelligent Energy (UK) (designer and manufacturer of the hydrogen fuel cells)
- APL (UK) (in charge of the tanks and supply of the high pressure hydrogen)
- Mavel Elettronica (IT) (designer and manufacturer of the power electronics)
- University of Pisa (IT) (laboratory tests on the electric system)
Mavel designed the power electronics system to guarantee the supply of the 40 kW of power necessary for takeoff while meeting the requirement of limiting weight (less than 15 kg) and size so that it could be installed on the airplane.
The ENFICA-FC project was chosen by the aeronautical and space planning committee from among hundreds of other programs presented. The overall cost of the project is €4.5 million (US$6.6 million) of which €2.9 million (US$4.2 million) is financed with funds allocated by the European Commission.
The project, which began in 2006, foresees finishing positively with the final test flights in February and March; flight testing will be based at the Reggio Emilio airport.