Los Angeles-based startup Universal Hydrogen has taken a significant step towards sustainable aviation by converting a regional passenger jet into a hydrogen-fueled aircraft. The company’s test flight of the aircraft, dubbed “Lightning McClean,” successfully concluded earlier this month. The 15-minute flight, which took place in the United States, had one pilot and two flight crew members on board. As reported by Euronews, during the second loop around Moses Lake Airport in Washington, the plane relied primarily on its single hydrogen-powered engine while cruising at an altitude of approximately 3,500 meters.
- The first hydrogen-powered Dash 8 takes to the air
- The role of hydrogen as a fuel for aviation
- The first hydrogen-powered flights are launched
The Promising Potential of Hydrogen in Aviation
The hydrogen-powered ATR 72 aircraft typically has a seating capacity of 50 passengers. However, due to the sizable liquid hydrogen tank, seating is reduced to around 40. Despite this limitation, Universal Hydrogen claims that their plane is the largest of its kind to rely primarily on hydrogen power. While the Soviet Union experimented with a hybrid hydrogen-fueled aircraft in 1988, their efforts were discontinued after the dissolution of the Soviet state.
Green hydrogen, produced when electricity passes through water, emits only water vapor when the energy source is renewable. As Universal Hydrogen CEO Paul Eremenko stated,
“Hydrogen is the only answer for aviation to get us close to the goals of the Paris Agreement.”
Preparing for Passenger Service in 2025
Universal Hydrogen has already secured agreements with carriers in the United States and Europe for its hydrogen-powered passenger jets. Connect Airlines, scheduled to launch regional turboprop flights this spring, has placed an initial order for the conversion of 75 ATR 72-600 regional jets to hydrogen power. The startup anticipates deliveries to commence in 2025.
Limitations and Future Developments
Presently, the technology is designed exclusively for short-haul applications. The considerable liquid hydrogen tanks hinder the aircraft’s range, limiting it to roughly half the distance of a conventional aircraft (1,600 kilometers). Nevertheless, Universal Hydrogen is working on a jet engine capable of burning hydrogen for extended-range flights, paving the way for a greener, more sustainable future in aviation.