The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

French Government Backs Zéphyr Hydrogen Propulsion Project with Covid Grant

The French government has awarded an €800,000 ($969,000) grant to eSTOL aircraft developer Avions Mauboussin under its Plan de relance aéronautique program to help the country’s aerospace industry recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The funding, announced on February 16 by the Ministry of the Economy, Finance and Recovery, provides support for the development of the Zéphyr hybrid hydrogen propulsion that will power its planned Alérion M1h and Alcyon M3c aircraft.

The Avions Mauboussin team is starting work this year on the Zéphyr technology at its base at Belfort in eastern France and expects the project to run through the end of 2024. The company now plans to get a jet-A-fueled hybrid version of the two-seat Alérion M1h model in service in 2025, followed by a hydrogen-powered model in 2027. Similarly, the respective timeline dates for the six-seat Alcyon M3c are now projected to be 2026 and 2028.

The start-up also intends to offer the Zéphyr propulsion system to other aircraft manufacturers, including those working on eVTOL designs and helicopters. The government funding will support the research and development phase of the program, including design of the powertrain, purchasing components, building a demonstrator, and ground testing.

The powerplant is based on a turbine engine because the company believes this is more compatible with the switch to hydrogen as a fuel source than a piston engine. The company intends for the aircraft to be operated in so-called "flex-fuel" mode so that users could refuel with either gasoline or hydrogen, depending on which is more readily available.

Meanwhile, Avions Mauboussin is already working on cockpit and fuselage mockups of the planned fixed-wing aircraft. The company hopes to be ready to begin flight testing the jet-A-fueled hybrid Alérion prototype before the end of 2022.

The aircraft are expected to provide a range of up to around 900 miles and speeds of around 155 mph, supporting connections between cities and more remote communities. Apart from personal transportation for owner-pilots, the start-up sees its aircraft being suitable for operations such as air taxi service and a variety of utility applications, such as medical support.

Avions Mauboussin estimates that it will need to raise just over $7 million to start flight testing of the Alérion prototype. In addition to the latest grant from the national government, it is now seeking early-stage investors to supplement funds already contributed by French economic development agencies, and it is also applying for support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 and Clean Sky programs.

Zéphyr takes its name from an aircraft developed for the French military by the original Avions Mauboussin company in the 1930s. Aeronautical engineer David Gallezot founded the current iteration of Avions Mauboussin in 2013 as an homage to the original enterprise, which was created in 1928 by famous French aircraft maker Pierre Mauboussin, who later developed the Fouga Magister jet trainer.