Universal Hydrogen completes first H2-powered test flight

US company Universal Hydrogen has completed the first flight of a 40-seat regional aeroplane powered by hydrogen fuel cell power. The ATR 72 regional aircraft was converted to run on hydrogen.

One of the aircraft’s turbine engines was replaced with a megawatt-class fuel cell electric powertrain from Universal Hydrogen using technology from Plug Power and MagniX. The other conventional engine was not replaced for the safety of the flight.

The electric powertrain is supplied by MagniX, and the fuel cells come from Plug Power. The powertrain does not require a battery and is powered directly by the fuel cell system that drives the electric motor. This reduces the aeroplane’s weight significantly, as well as the cost of the technology, says Universal Hydrogen. The company and Magnix already signed into a partnership in 2020.

The aircraft, nicknamed Lightning McClean, took off from Grant County International Airport in Washington state and remained airborne for 15 minutes, reaching an altitude of 3,500 feet (about 1,000 metres). It is expected to enter passenger service in 2025.

Universal Hydrogen has already received orders for 247 aircraft conversions from 16 different customers worldwide. The orders total over one billion dollars in conversions backlog and over 2 billion dollars in fuel services over the first ten years of operation.

This includes orders from Connect Airlines and Amelia, the US and European launch customers for the hydrogen-powered plane, respectively. Representatives from both companies were there to witness the flight. “Today will go down in the history books as the true start to the decarbonization of the global airline industry and we at Connect Airlines are extremely proud of the role that we, as the first US operator, will play in leading the way with Universal Hydrogen,” says John Thomas, CEO of Connect Airlines.

Universal Hydrogen is backed by GE Aviation, Airbus Ventures, Toyota Ventures, JetBlue Ventures and American Airlines, among others.



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