25 Jul 2024

AUTOMATION FOR MANUFACTURING

600kW fuel cell aircraft powertrain pulls 15-ton platform

Test flights on the converted 19-seater Dornier aircraft are due to start later this year

Engineers working for the British-American fuel-cell-powered aircraft developer ZeroAvia have used a 600kW propellor powertrain to pull a 15-ton mobile testing platform at the company’s Californian facility in Hollister. The test was part of the development programme that should see a 19-seater fuel cell aircraft powered by two of the 600kW powertrains taking off from ZeroAvia’s UK site in Kemble later this year.

The HyperTruck mobile test platform is based on a heavy-duty military truck which is big enough to test the company’s planned 2MW+ powertrain that will power a 40-80 seat hydrogen-electric aircraft. ZeroAvia is aiming to launch commercial operations in 2024, initially based on a 9-19 seat aircraft with a 926km (500 nautical mile) range, designed to carry passengers, cargo, agricultural products and other loads.

ZeroAvia, which has already completed UK test flights of a six-seater aircraft with a 250kW power plant, is being supported by grants from UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute and Innovate UK, and has also raised $37m in funding from investors.

The company has acquired two 19-seater Dornier 228 aircraft for the new test flights for its HyFlyer II programme, which are due to start later this year. The 600kW hydrogen-electric powertrains will replace the aircrafts’ twin engines, while tanks that can hold 100kg of compressed hydrogen gas will eventually support the planned 926km range for the six-tonne planes.

In the latest ground tests, the ZA-600 600kW powertrain hauled the HyperTruck slowly along the tarmac in Hollister. “These tests are important steps in reaching our next major goal of flight testing in our 19-seat aircraft in both the US and UK Do228-based prototypes,” says ZeroAvia founder and CEO, Val Miftakhov.

“The Hollister testing is a significant milestone for our new HyperTruck testbed and ZA-600 that also confirms the operation of our next-generation control system and software,” adds Gabe DeVault, the company’s head of testing and applications.

ZeroAvia’s new 30,000ft2 (2,787m2) facility in Kemble will act as the base for developing the 600kW engines. It marks a significant investment in, and expansion of, the company’s UK-based r&d programme. The Californian base will help the UK team with testing and will build a second demonstration aircraft aimed at commercialising the technology in North America. The company currently employs around 50 people, and expects to expand to more than 100 over the coming 12 months across both the UK and the US.

“As air travel begins to increase again, political and public pressure is mounting to incorporate more sustainable technology,” says Nico Bezuidenhout, CEO of the Guernsey-based airline, Aurigny, which provided one of the Dornier testbed aircraft. “ZeroAvia’s 19-seat initiative will not only seek to decarbonise existing regional services, but also expand the reach of regional aviation by ultimately reducing the seat-mile cost, making smaller planes competitive with larger aircraft. In turn, smaller airports will become more accessible for aviation service, increasing traveller convenience, and the corresponding demand for point-to-point regional air travel.”

The aircraft that Aurigny has supplied was previously used for regional flights in the UK, allowing comparisons to be made on the reduction in emissions that the fuel cell version will achieve.

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