Boeing has just shown off the world’s first manned hydrogen fuel cell airplane to fly. Like modern day Wright Brothers, the aeronautics giant has gone where no man has gone before.
Using both lithium-ion battery pack and PEM hydrogen fuel cell developed with the oversight of Boeing Research & Technology Europe (BR&TE), this two-seat Dimona motor-glider with electric motor and conventional propeller was able to climb to 3,300-feet and stay aloft for 20 minutes.
Once reaching altitude, the pilot was able to fly on hydrogen-power alone and reached a cruising speed of 62 mph. The fuel cell was developed by British company Intelligent Energy and ironically a German company named Gore also had a hand in building the demonstration aircraft.
In August 2006, I had talked about Boeing teaming up with fuel cell maker Intelligent Energy for this project since they already had proven experience on their ENV hydrogen motorcycle. The Boeing manned hydrogen plane claims the honors of being the first and beats out Florida State University in Tallahassee who is also working on a similar project.
In 2007, Boeing teamed up with Ford Motor Company to develop a HALE (High Altitude Long Endurance) unmanned aircraft that uses a turbocharged internal combustion engine and hydrogen fuel to propel the aircraft.
The Boeing manned fuel cell hybrid electric plane is the beginning of many small hydrogen-powered aircraft to follow. Even though it may be a while before hydrogen is used as a primary fuel on jumbo jets, the small aircraft and auxiliary power markets are attainable in the near future.