FRIEDRICHSHAFEN, GERMANY – Motorized flight exclusively powered by a fuel cell is now possible. The ultralight aircraft by French company Helite will take to the air exclusively propelled by hydrogen energy without supplementary energy supplied by batteries. Weather permitting, the hydrogen plane will even be presented in flight at the AERO International Aviation Trade Show from April 2-5, 2009. Together with the authors of the reference book Flügel der Welt, Messe Friedrichshafen created the new expo.
The "e" stands for electrical, ecological, and evolutionary, and defines the world’s first "e-Flight Expo," where the newest engineering developments in modern, environmentally-friendly aviation propulsion systems will be exhibited and demonstrated.
Along with electrical propulsion systems for small aircraft, paragliders and hang-gliders, the aforementioned hydrogen-powered aircraft will be presented, as well as a solar-power glider. American Eric Raymond's Sunseeker, which has already completed more than 500 flying hours and has crossed the United States in 21 stages. Solar technologies, new biofuels, and high-performance batteries will also be presented at AERO.
In April 2008, Boeing surprised the world with a 20-minute maiden flight of a power glider powered by a fuel cell. While Boeing's first manned hydrogen-powered experimental aircraft relied on additional energy from an auxiliary battery for take-off and landing, Gérard Thevenot of Helite will fly his ultralight without battery assistance.
"Unlike the Boeing project, our hydrogen-powered plane is an extremely light aircraft, weighing less than 160 kg including the pilot," says Thevenot. "This allows us to fly for the first time only with a fuel cell and without any auxiliary batteries. This is a world first!"
The one-seater ultralight trike is equipped with a 7 kW hydrogen propulsion system and weighs only 55 kg with a 5-liter hydrogen tank. The airfoil of less than 14 square meters (resembling a kind of hang-glider flying dragon) has a 12-meter wingspan and weighs 35 kg. Fuel consumption during the propulsion trial at 100 m above sea level was measured at 550 grams per flying hour on average. The only resulting emission is steam.
The Helite ultralight will not be the only fuel cell aircraft at AERO. Two other aviation projects from Germany and Italy will demonstrate the feasibility of hydrogen propulsion. The University of Stuttgart will present its Hydrogenius project, a two-seater ultralight power glider made of fiber-strengthened synthetic material. It is based on a series production aircraft made by Slovakian aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel and has a wing span of 18 meters. The aircraft is equipped with a 60 kW hydrogen propulsion system located in the tail unit. Meanwhile, the Technical University of Turin will present its SkySparks fuel cell project, whose first flight is also scheduled for 2009.
"As a base model, we have selected a high-performance ultralight aircraft called the Pioneer made by Italian manufacturer Alpi Aviation," says Project Director Paolo Maggiore from the Technical University of Turin. Its hydrogen propulsion system, which will be presented at AERO, produces 62 kW and weighs 30 kg.
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