The European Commission (EC) has appointed fuel cell developer H2Fly to lead its Project Heaven initiative to develop hydrogen propulsion technology for airliners. The German company is close to completing the integration of its fuel cells and liquid hydrogen storage tanks in the HY4 technology demonstrator aircraft to be ready to start ground testing in 2023.
The HY4 aircraft has previously flown with pressurized gaseous hydrogen. Stuttgart-based H2Fly, which is owned by U.S. eVTOL aircraft developer Joby Aviation, believes that its sixth-generation powertrain, using liquid hydrogen, could power 40-seat airliners on flights of up to around 2,000 km (1,250 miles).
Project Heaven is part of the EC’s Horizon 2020 research and development campaign to eliminate carbon emissions from air transport. It is jointly funded by the commission and by the governments of Spain, France, Germany, and Slovenia. H2Fly will now be responsible for reporting the project’s results to the EC.
In November, H2Fly started to integrate the new powertrain into the HY4 aircraft. This followed vibration and tank leakage tests conducted by industrial gas supplier Air Liquide to assess the safety of the cryogenic tanks it has developed. Other key partners in Project Heaven include electric aircraft developer Pipistrel, which is supporting the systems integration and testing, and Germany’s government-backed aerospace research agency DLR.
H2Fly is already working with Munich-based Deutsche Aircraft and has agreed to collaborate on plans to convert a 1990s-vintage Dornier 328 regional airliner to hydrogen power. The partners hope to be ready to start flight testing the former twin turboprop in 2025 as part of a timeline that H2Fly founder and CEO Josef Kallo told FutureFlight could lead to an aircraft being certified under EASA’s Part CS-25 rules (equivalent to FAA's Part 25) in about seven to eight years.
Earlier this year, the HY4 made a cross-country flight of 77 miles between Stuttgart and Friedrichshafen in Germany. It has also set what the company believes is a world altitude record for a hydrogen-powered aircraft by cruising at 7,230 feet.