Hydrogen-powered Hy4 aircraft makes successful virgin flight

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Ajdovščina – A hydrogen-powered hybrid-electric four-seater aircraft, developed in a project headed by the Slovenian ultralight aircraft maker Pipistrel, has made a successful virgin flight.

Announcing the news, Pipistrel Vertical Solutions called the Hy4’s flight a “landmark milestone for the MAHEPA project and for the future of clean aviation”.

The Hy4 made the flight from Maribor airport, in the north-east of Slovenia, in November, despite the Covid-19 repercussions and with all safety precautions in place.

“Pipistrel has always been aware that aviation is one of the biggest climate polluters. This is why we started developing electric aircraft 20 years ago ad launched serial production in 2007,” Ivo Boscarol, Pipistrel director and owner, has told the STA.

“The fact that we received the first ever electric aircraft type certificate in the world in June confirms our leadership in electric-powered development and our being the pioneers of carbon-free aviation in commercial and passenger transport,” added Boscarol.

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Due to the battery energy density, electric aircraft currently offer a limited flight range and applicability. Hydrogen fuel cell technology combined with an electric engine is seen as an ideal solution to the problem.

“In this combination electric power no longer comes from heavy batteries carried onboard, but is being generated during the flight in fuel cells from oxygen from the air and light hydrogen carried onboard,” Boscarol explained.

Hydrogen is an extremely cheap energy product, it can be obtained everywhere, is light and, most importantly, the only by-product of the reaction is pure water steam, which means such aircraft do not produce harmful emissions at all.

Four years ago, Pipistrel entered cooperation with three other partners in developing a hydrogen fuel cell driven aircraft, which took off from Stuttgart airport in September 2016 as the first four-seater hydrogen-driven aircraft.

The same aircraft is being used for further research, development and improvements in the MAHEPA project, headed by Pipistrel Vertical Solutions and also including German partners H2FLY GmbH Compact Dynamics, DLR – German Aerospace Center and University of Ulm, Delft University of Technology from the Netherlands, Politecnico di Milano and the University of Maribor.

Boscarol said Pipistrel was already working on its next project, a 19-seater passenger aircraft driven by hydrogen fuel cells that will be able to fly a distance of up to 1,000 kilometres in two hours almost without making a sound and completely emission-free.

He expects the aircraft to take off before the end of the current decade.

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