Fuel cell demo plane by Boeing ready for test flights
Boeing researchers at the company R+D center in Madrid (BR&TE) and industry partners from Spain and other European countries are planning to conduct experimental flight tests this year of a manned airplane powered only by a fuel cell and lightweight batteries.
Photo credit: Boeing Illustration
With a wing span of 16.3 meters (53.5 feet), the airplane will be able to cruise at approximately 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour) using fuel cell-provided power.
“Given the efficiency and environmental benefits of emerging fuel cell technology, Boeing wants to be on the forefront of developing and applying it to aerospace products,” said Francisco Escarti, BR&TE managing director. “The Fuel Cell Demonstrator Airplane project is an important step in that direction.”
A fuel cell is an electrochemical device that converts hydrogen directly into electricity and heat without combustion. Fuel cells are emission-free and quieter than hydrocarbon fuel-powered engines. They save fuel and are cleaner for the environment.
Flight tests, which will take place in Spain, will demonstrate for the first time that a manned airplane can maintain a straight level flight with fuel cells as the only power source.
“While Boeing does not envision that fuel cells will provide primary power for future commercial passenger airplanes, demonstrations like this help pave the way for potentially using this technology in small manned and unmanned air vehicles,” Escarti said. “It also gives us hands-on experience to complement other fuel-cell studies being carried out throughout the company.”
The toughest challenges for this project were problems as heat dissipation, power distribution, parts assembly and security and, fortunately, all of them have been tackled effectively.
Chartered to provide innovative technology and system solutions to meet future aerospace needs, Boeing Research and Technology Europe (BR&TE) in Madrid is part of the Boeing Phantom Works advanced R&D unit. It is the first organization of this type that Boeing has established outside the United States. For this project, it has worked closely with eight Spanish universities and companies and other partners from across Europe to design and assemble the experimental airplane.
The Madrid-based avionics group Aerlyper performed airframe modifications, as well as the mounting and wiring of all components; SAFT France designed and assembled the auxiliary batteries and the backup battery; Air Liquide Spain performed the detailed design and assembly of the onboard fuel system and the refueling station; the Electronic Engineering Division of the Polytechnic University of Madrid (School of Industrial Engineering) collaborated in the design and construction of the power management and distribution box; post-integration bench testing is being conducted in a facility that belongs to the Polytechnic University of Madrid (INSIA); and SENASA (Spain) will provide a test pilot and facilities for flight tests.
Other suppliers for the Fuel Cell Demonstrator Airplane include UQM Technologies Inc. (United States), MT Propeller (Germany), Tecnicas Aeronauticas de Madrid (Spain), Ingenieria de Instrumentacion y Control (Spain), GORE (Germany), Indra (Spain) and Inventia (Spain).