Retrofitted Piper hydrogen-electric plane takes flight

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LONDON — ZeroAvia recently completed the first hydrogen fuel cell powered flight of a commercial-grade aircraft.

The flight took place Sept. 23, 2020, at the company’s R&D facility in Cranfield, England, with the Piper M-class six-seat plane completing taxi, takeoff, a full pattern circuit, and landing.

According to ZeroAvia officials, the flight is the first step towards moving from fossil fuels to zero-emission hydrogen as the primary energy source for commercial aviation. Eventually, and without any new fundamental science required, hydrogen-powered aircraft will match the flight distances and payload of the current fossil fuel aircraft, they claim. 

The milestone is part of the HyFlyer project, an R&D program supported by the UK Government. It follows the UK’s first ever commercial-scale battery-electric flight, conducted in the same aircraft in June 2020.

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ZeroAvia will now turn its attention to the next and final stage of its six-seat development program — a 250-mile zero emission flight out of an airfield in Orkney, England, before the end of the year. The demonstration of this range is roughly equivalent to busy major routes such as Los Angeles to San Francisco or London to Edinburgh, company officials note.

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