|Boeing Successfully Flies Fuel Cell-Powered Airplane |
April 3, 2008
Boeing announced today that it has, for the first time in aviation history, flown a
manned airplane powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
The recent milestone is the work of an engineering team at Boeing Research &
Technology Europe (BR&TE) in Madrid, with assistance from industry partners in
Austria, France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
"Boeing is actively working to develop new technologies for environmentally
progressive aerospace products," said Francisco Escarti, BR&TE's managing
director. "We are proud of our pioneering work during the past five years on the
Fuel Cell Demonstrator Airplane project. It is a tangible example of how we are
exploring future leaps in environmental performance, as well as a credit to the
talents and innovative spirit of our team."
A fuel cell is an electrochemical device that converts hydrogen directly into
electricity and heat with none of the products of combustion such as carbon
dioxide. Other than heat, water is its only exhaust.
A two-seat Dimona motor-glider with a 16.3 meter (53.5 foot) wingspan was used
as the airframe. Built by Diamond Aircraft Industries of Austria, it was
modified by BR&TE to include a Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel
cell/lithium-ion battery hybrid system to power an electric motor coupled to a
Three test flights took place in February and March at the airfield in Ocaña,
south of Madrid, operated by the Spanish company SENASA.
During the flights, the pilot of the experimental airplane climbed to an
altitude of 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) above sea level using a combination of
battery power and power generated by hydrogen fuel cells. Then, after reaching
the cruise altitude and disconnecting the batteries, the pilot flew straight and
level at a cruising speed of 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour) for
approximately 20 minutes on power solely generated by the fuel cells.
According to Boeing researchers, PEM fuel cell technology potentially could
power small manned and unmanned air vehicles. Over the longer term, solid oxide
fuel cells could be applied to secondary power-generating systems, such as
auxiliary power units for large commercial airplanes. Boeing does not envision
that fuel cells will ever provide primary power for large passenger airplanes,
but the company will continue to investigate their potential, as well as other
sustainable alternative fuel and energy sources that improve environmental
BR&TE, part of the Boeing Phantom Works advanced R&D unit, has worked closely
with Boeing Commercial Airplanes and a network of partners since 2003 to design,
assemble and fly the experimental craft.
The group of companies, universities and institutions participating in this
Austria -- Diamond Aircraft Industries
France -- SAFT France
Germany -- Gore and MT Propeller
Spain -- Adventia, Aerlyper, Air Liquide Spain, Indra, Ingeniería de
Instrumentación y Control (IIC), Inventia, SENASA, Swagelok, Técnicas
Aeronauticas de Madrid (TAM), Tecnobit, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, and
the Regional Government of Madrid
United Kingdom -- Intelligent Energy
United States -- UQM Technologies.