After 10 test flights already completed Universal Hydrogen will begin a two-year flight test campaign of the largest hydrogen-electric plane ever flown, Lightning McClean.
Universal Hydrogen hopes the campaign will allow the company to continue to optimize the performance of the hydrogen fuel cell powertrain.
The test will see the introduction of new hardware, including a new custom-developed, aviation-grade turbocompressor that will allow flights up to 25,000 feet (about 7.5 kilometers), the operating ceiling of the Dash 8 aircraft.
Secondly, the test program will introduce Universal Hydrogen’s patented modular liquid hydrogen fuel storage system.
And finally, it will commence certification testing to prove that the production configuration of the aircraft meets all the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandated airworthiness and safety requirements.
On September 26, 2023, the company hosted a kickoff event at Mojave Air & Space Port in the United States (US), with a flight that lasted approximately 20 minutes, during which the flaps and landing gear were retracted and the aircraft reached 5,000 feet (about 1.5 km).
Lightning McClean then returned for several passes over the airport with the conventional engine throttled back and the hydrogen powertrain at full power to measure noise level reduction that fuel cell-electric propulsion is expected to deliver.
“It’s truly exciting to see Universal Hydrogen’s zero emission plane flying over California’s skies,” Angelina Galiteva, ARCHES CEO, said. “It’s a great example of how California based companies like Universal Hydrogen are working to alleviate the impacts of climate change and improve local air quality all while bringing tangible community benefits like good paying jobs and technological innovation to California.”
Galiteva added: “We look forward to partnering with Universal Hydrogen, as part of the Alliance for Renewable Clean Hydrogen Energy Systems (ARCHES) hydrogen hub, to make zero emission flight a commercial reality for everyone!”
The company settled on the Mojave Air & Space Port for its aircraft and flight test base to increase its presence in California, where its Hawthorne-based headquarters and engineering center is located, as well as to draw on the strong engineering talent pool in the Los Angeles and Mojave region.
“Universal Hydrogen is one of the partners we’re working with on our ambition to replace our Q300 regional turboprops with a lower emissions fleet from 2030. We’re incredibly encouraged by their progress and the milestones achieved to date. We’ll be watching closely as they continue their journey towards certification and entry to service,” Kiri Hannifin, chief sustainability officer for Air New Zealand, said.