Hydrogen-fueled airplane lands, makes home in Mojave

The Mojave Air & Space Port has found a renewable-energy tenant that appears to fit neatly within the facility’s history of aerospace innovation. Hawthorne-based Universal Hydrogen Co. uses hydrogen fuel cell technology to help power a modified 40-passenger regional airliner. It recently put the concept to work in flying one it calls “Lightning McClean” south from Moses Lake, Wash. An announcement Friday that the company will move flight tests of its zero-emission drivetrain technology to eastern Kern is expected to boost Mojave’s reputation as a place where aviation feats never before achieved are able to take wing.

“Bringing Universal Hydrogen to the Mojave Air & Space Port is a big win for us and the local community,” the air and space port’s general manager, Tim Reid, said in a news release heralding the company’s arrival in Mojave.

“With their research and development,” he added, “Universal Hydrogen’s technology will be a total game changer for zero emissions flight within the next decade, meeting the environmental goals of California while advancing the industry with a new, sustainable energy source.”

The company said its De Havilland Canada DHC-8 airliner is powered on one side by a renewable-hydrogen fuel powertrain. During the first four legs of the 800-mile trip from Washington, the fuel cell was throttled down after takeoff. But on the final portion, hydrogen was used for the duration of the more than one-hour flight, marking “the longest flight by a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain to date.” Universal Hydrogen plans to launch commercial service by late 2025. Along with that, it has a goal of certifying a powertrain conversion kit for retrofitting existing regional aircraft to fly on hydrogen fuel. Its idea is to transport renewable hydrogen from production sites by putting it in modular capsules and moving it along existing freight networks.

Earlier this year the company notched an initial, successful flight test. It was followed by four additional tests. During its second test flight, Universal Hydrogen reported, its aircraft flew for 30 minutes at 170 knots, reaching an altitude of 5,000 feet. Then, on June 12, the company said it reached 10,000 feet. The company’s news release Friday said moving its flight testing regimen to Mojave “will allow the company to take advantage of a strong engineering talent pool in Mojave as well as nearby Los Angeles.” Universal Hydrogen has been awarded a $5 million development grant from the California Office of Business Development.

Aviation is seen as one of the toughest industries to decarbonize. But in the company’s news release, California Energy Commission Chairman David Hochschild expressed hope, stating that Universal Hydrogen “is proving that true zero emission is achievable” using hydrogen as airplane fuel.

Plus, he said it’s good for the local economy.

“Basing their test flight operations in Mojave will supercharge a site of significant aviation and space history, and create good-paying jobs for Californians as we ramp up our efforts to combat climate change,” Hochschild stated.

The Mojave Air & Space Port opened in 1935 and has since established itself as a hub of aviation innovation. In 1986, the Rutan Model 76 Voyager became the first aircraft to fly around the world without stopping to refuel after taking off from the facility. Among other success stories originating there was that of SpaceShipOne, a pioneering craft whose launch from the port in 2004 was seen as an important step toward privately funded human spaceflight.


Comments for this post are closed.