Universal Hydrogen begins flight testing for their Hydrogen Regional Aircraft at Mojave Air & Space Port
October 14, 2023
On Sept. 26, a beautiful calm morning at Mojave Air & Space Port, Universal Hydrogen conducted their first test flight of "Lightning McClean" at Mojave.
As the aircraft lifted off from runway 30,
I heard someone say, "It's so quiet!"
Our own Assemblyman Tom Lackey was on hand to witness the historic test flight and said, "Aerospace Valley continues to operate on the cutting edge of flight technology.
"The Mojave Air & Space Port has a long-standing history of innovation that we are very proud of. This partnership with Universal Hydrogen will not only benefit the region but will also keep California competitive in sustainable energy for our future."
It was the 10th test flight for the crew members, Chief Test Pilot Alex Kroll, Co-pilot, Michael Bockler and Flight Test Engineer, Loris Gliner.
The first flight of the world's largest hydrogen fuel cell-powered airplane and the largest airplane ever to cruise principally on hydrogen was accomplished in March of this year in Moses Lake, Washington.
The company replaced one of the engines on its de Havilland Dash 8-300 twin turboprop airliner with a hydrogen fuel cell electric powertrain. The carbon fiber propeller is manufactured by Hartzell Propellers in Piqua, Ohio.
According to a press release, the record-setting first flight was followed by a successful June 2023 ferry of the aircraft from Moses Lake, Washington to Mojave, California, which also included several "firsts" and demonstrated an expanded operating envelope for the hydrogen fuel cell powertrain.
In a recent press release by Universal Hydrogen, the company has a goal to enter into commercial service in 2026 and has many orders for regional aircraft conversion kits that replace the existing kerosene-burning gas turbines on 50-60 passenger regional aircraft starting with the ATR 72 with hydrogen fuel cells and an electric motor.
The kit also reconfigures the aircraft to accommodate Universal Hydrogen's liquid hydrogen fuel modules and the orders include an agreement to supply hydrogen fuel services for the aircraft.
According to their press release, Universal Hydrogen says it now has a backlog of 250 orders for its conversion kits, following a recent order from an unnamed customer. "This symbolic milestone places our order book for aircraft conversion well north of $1 billion, with nearly half the orders including deposits or cancellation penalties," said Rod Williams, Universal Hydrogen's chief commercial officer. "This also translates to over $2 billion in fuel services revenue over our first ten years of operation."
In an article by Future Flight, in was stated that the company previously announced a conditional preorder for 75 converted ATR 72-600s from Massachusetts-based regional carrier Connect Airlines. Last summer, Canadian aviation company Avmax Aircraft agreed to convert 20 of its regional aircraft to hydrogen power using one or both of Universal Hydrogen's powertrains. Universal Hydrogen is also working with Deutsche Aircraft in Germany to evaluate the possibility of installing its modular hydrogen capsules in the Dornier 328 regional airliner. The company recently received an equity investment of an undisclosed amount from American Airlines. Other strategic investors include Airbus Ventures, GE Aviation, Toyota Ventures, and JetBlue Ventures.
The article also stated, Universal Hydrogen's flight test campaign with Lightning McClean is expected to last two years. During that time, the company plans to make some upgrades to the aircraft, including a new custom turbo compressor that will enable it to reach altitudes up to 25,000 feet, which is the operating ceiling for the Dash 8. As part of the campaign, Universal Hydrogen will also begin testing its modular liquid hydrogen delivery and storage system, which it says will reduce the need for costly infrastructure at airports where hydrogen-powered aircraft will operate.
The flight at Mojave lasted approximately 20 minutes, during which the flaps and landing gear were retracted and the aircraft reached 5,000 feet MSL before returning for several passes over the airport with the conventional engine throttled back and the hydrogen powertrain at full power to measure noise level reduction that fuel cell-electric propulsion is expected to deliver. The hydrogen fuel cell powertrain was operated at maximum power during takeoff and operated throughout the flight.
Kroll is the Chief Test Pilot for Universal Hydrogen, where he leads the flight testing of fuel cell powertrains for commercial aviation applications. He is a former USAF Test Pilot, where he flew B-52s and F-16s, tested hypersonic weapons, and helped developed the new B-21 bomber. He has vast experience in propulsion, weapons, systems, and flying qualities testing. He is type rated in the F-16, DHC-7, DHC-8, and B737 aircraft.
He will be giving a presentation at Plane Crazy Saturday on Oct. 21 at 11 a.m. in the Mojave Air & Space Port Board room. Reservations for the talk can be made by sending email to info.mojavemuseum.org.