Universal Hydrogen Co. announced last week that it was granted an experimental special airworthiness certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to proceed with the first flight of its hydrogen-powered regional aircraft. The company also released video footage of successful first taxi tests of the aircraft, designed to evaluate ground handling qualities and the performance of the fuel-cell electric powertrain at low power settings and airspeeds.

The Dash 8-300 flying testbed has a megawatt-class hydrogen fuel cell powertrain installed in one of its nacelles. The powertrain is in a configuration that closely resembles the company’s first product—a conversion kit for ATR 72-600 regional airliners—which is expected to be certified and in commercial passenger service starting in 2025.

Universal Hydrogen’s powertrain does not utilize a hybrid battery architecture, with all of the power transmitted directly from the fuel cells to the electric motor, significantly decreasing weight and lifecycle cost.

The FAA approval clears the way for the first flight of the Dash 8-300 flying testbed which will take place at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Washington. Once complete with its first flight, the aircraft will be the largest hydrogen fuel cell-powered airplane to take to the skies, and second as a hydrogen-powered aircraft only to the Soviet flight test in 1988 of a Tupolev Tu-155 airliner with one of its jet engines converted to burn hydrogen.

“We are simultaneously providing a pragmatic, near-term solution for hydrogen infrastructure and delivery, as well as for converting existing passenger aircraft to use this lightweight, safe, and true-zero-emissions fuel,” said Paul Eremenko, co-founder and CEO of Universal Hydrogen. “Today’s milestones are essential, important steps to putting the industry on a trajectory to meet Paris Agreement obligations. The only alternative is curtailing aviation traffic growth to curb emissions.”

Why it’s important: Universal Hydrogen’s DHC 8-300 testing represents the opportunity for a leap forward in hydrogen fuel cell powered aircraft research and development, and carries the companies’ offerings a step further beyond their initial convertible ATR hydrogen packages. While hydrogen storage and hydrogen powertrains are still relatively new topics in aerospace, the engineering acumen to successfully deploy these types of systems is an important development focus and its scope continues to grow.

Posted by Naish Gaubatz