The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

H2 Clipper Completes Simulated Wind Tunnel Tests for Airship Freighter

H2 Clipper this month reported progress in its plans to bring a hydrogen-powered airship to market, with the completion of simulated wind tunnel testing using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to assess its design. The California-based start-up has named its proposed air freight vehicle the Pipeline-In-The-Sky and aims to have a full-scale model flying in 2028.

The airship is expected to have a range of 6,000 miles at speeds of 175 mph and a vast cargo volume of 265,000 cubic feet. According to the company, its operating costs will be between 17 and 25 cents per ton-mile, based on payloads of 245 tons over 1,000 miles or 170 tons over 6,000 miles.

Total lifting capacity is expected to be up to 277 tons, with the range-to-payload ratio being driven by the quantity of fuel required for the desired flight distance. H2 Clipper claims that compared with trucks and ships, the airship will be able to move cargo between seven and 10 times faster. Its business model is to provide a more cost-effective and carbon-neutral means for transporting renewable energy to where it is needed.

The simulated wind tunnel testing is part of H2 Clipper’s preparations for building a subscale prototype ready to start flight testing in 2025. Its development timeline has slipped by a year since earlier announcements in September 2021.

This week, the company bolstered its leadership team with the appointment of executive search specialist Thomas Neff to its advisory board. It says it has raised more than $8.5 million to date but has not commented on how it intends to attract further capital to bring the airship into production.

The H2 Clipper's propulsion system is a hydrogen fuel cell supplemented by a photovoltaic array, with electric motors turning propellers and power coming from a combination of electricity produced by proton exchange membrane fuel cells and solar power. According to the company, using hydrogen both as a fuel source and as a lifting gas for the airship maximizes both propulsion efficiency and buoyancy.

The design features four side-mounted motors, each with a six-bladed propeller, plus a fifth motor to the aft with an eight-bladed propeller. These have a combined horsepower output of 33,200 shp. The side motors can be activated independently to provide low-speed maneuvering control. Stability is supported by a trio of fins on the aft end of the bullet-shaped fuselage, and the H2 Clipper is expected to use the latest fly-by-wire flight controls.

To achieve higher speeds and better fuel efficiency by minimizing drag, the airship does not have the typical external gondola compartment. Instead, part of the H2 Clipper's vast internal volume will be set aside for storing cargo, and the company intends to use a system of fixed rails to facilitate loading and unloading.

H2 Clipper is also developing a hydrogen distribution system that will carry the fuel up to 1,000 miles using existing oil and gas, or water pipelines. In February, the company was issued a U.S. patent for what it calls its “Pipe-Within-a-Pipe” technology for last-mile delivery of the fuel.

“The successful analysis with CFD marks a major milestone for the development of the Pipeline-In-The-Sky airship and brings H2 Clipper one step closer to realizing our goal of providing the fastest, most flexible, and efficiently scalable way to transport fuel-grade hydrogen to market worldwide,” said H2 Clipper founder and CEO Rinaldo Brutoco.

In December 2021, Dassault Systèmes selected H2 Clipper to participate in its 3DExperience Lab. This move provided the opportunity for the company to use the French aerospace group’s Catia design software, as well as the Solidworks platform for design and system engineering and the Delmia and Simulia systems for manufacturing and simulation.