Destinus, the European start-up developing a hydrogen-powered hypersonic aircraft, has flown its Jungfrau subscale technology demonstrator drone using new hydrogen afterburners. The company said that multiple flights conducted at an undisclosed airport near Munich on May 24 marked the world’s first inflight deployment of hydrogen afterburner technology.
The Destinus engineering team developed the afterburner in-house and then integrated it with an existing jet turbine engine. As used on multiple fighter aircraft, afterburners are additional combustion units that generate higher levels of thrust by injecting more fuel—in this case, gaseous hydrogen—into the exhaust stream to support higher speeds and climb rates.
According to Destinus, the afterburners will support its efforts first to attain supersonic speeds, and later hypersonic speeds that could exceed Mach 5 on intercontinental flights over oceans. It said it will be able to accelerate the development process by using conventional turbojet engines that can run on liquid hydrogen or jet-A fuel.
During multiple test flights last week, the Jungfrau technology demonstrator achieved speeds of around 250 km/h. The company said the flights “showcased the functionality and efficiency of hydrogen afterburners in real-world conditions.”
Destinus plans to use its afterburner with off-the-shelf turbofan engines for early cargo-carrying examples of its planned hypersonic aircraft. The initial production aircraft will have four of the as-yet-unspecified engines, but the company may develop its own hydrogen-fed air turborocket engines for a piloted airliner that it says could be carrying up to 200 passengers on trips of up to 2,300 miles by the mid-2030s. It has already produced a prototype compressor for this air-burning engine.
Once hypersonic speeds are achieved, the aircraft is expected to be able to shrink flight times from Europe to Australia to just four hours, albeit following circuitous routes to avoid current bans on supersonic-plus-speed flights over land. Destinus is already working on a larger technology demonstrator aircraft that it expects to be ready to fly at supersonic speeds in 2024. The company started test flights with the Jungfrau aircraft in 2021 and has also flown a larger model called the Eiger.
“This achievement represents a major leap forward in aerospace technology,” said Destinus founder and CEO Mikhail Kokorich. “The successful flight with hydrogen afterburners demonstrates the potential for high-performance propulsion systems that are highly efficient and reduce carbon emissions.”
Destinus has seen market interest in its aircraft from companies such as Brazilian charter flight booking platform Flapper.