First Ever Manned Hydrogen-Powered Aircraft Takes to the Air


Earlier this week, the world’s first piloted aircraft powered solely by hydrogen fuel cells, took to the skies above Hamburg Airport, Germany, producing zero carbon dioxide emissions.

The Antares DLR-H2, jointly developed by the German aerospace centre DLR, Lange Aviation, BASF Fuel Cells and Denmark’s Serenergy, has a range of 750km (390nm) and can stay airborne for 5 hours at top flying speeds of about 90kt (170km/h).

According to DLR, a main hurdle was improving fuel cell performance capabilities and efficiency to such an extent that the motor glider could take off using fuel cell power alone. DLR’s Johann-Dietrich told reporters, “This enables us to demonstrate the true potential of this technology.” (see more pictures after the jump).

The engine system converts hydrogen into electrical energy via a direct, electrochemical reaction with oxygen in the ambient air – producing water as the only byproduct.

To enable the bulky fuel cell and the hydrogen supply to fit on the aircraft, two external load carriers weighing 100kg (220lb) were attached to specially reinforced wings to safeguard flight stability.

The fuel cells deliver up to 25kW of electrical power, but operate at an efficiency level of about 52% when the aircraft is flying in a straight line, requiring around 10kW.

The total efficiency of the drive system from tank to powertrain, including the propeller, is around 44%, making it about twice as efficient as conventional propulsion technologies based on combustion processes.

Over the next three years the prototype will be based at Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg where it will be the main flying test platform for the fuel cell test activities of DLR as part of its Fuel Cell Labs project.

It’s encouraging to see that hydrogen fuel cells have now entered the mix as a viable alternative to standard combustion technologies in the race towards greener aviation. Let’s just hope the project can be rolled out on a larger scale soon!

Image Credits – DLR

Andrew Williams

is a writer and freelance journalist specialising in sustainability and green issues. He lives in Cardiff, Wales.