Boeing Enters GA Fuel-Cell Race?

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Boeing has entered the race to put a fuel-cell-powered aircraft in the air. Boeing's research center in Madrid, Spain, will launch the process, planning to equip a Diamond Katana Xtreme motor glider with the plumbing, controls and electric motor needed to make it fly on a fuel cell. The plan is to fly the aircraft by late 2004 or early 2005. Most of the corporate partners in the project are European, but Advanced Technology Products, of Worcester, Mass., which has been making slow progress on their own fuel-cell aircraft project, is also involved. That project in June won a $400,000 NASA grant "to develop and build the Fuel Cell System for the project." It's not clear if that project will be continued, abandoned or absorbed in the well-heeled Boeing project, which hopes in the near term to produce a fuel-cell powered APU. The investigation continues into the crash of the Helios Prototype, the unmanned aerial vehicle that was preparing to test a fuel-cell propulsion system. Initial data collected over two weeks since the aircraft crashed off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii, indicates the remotely piloted flying wing experienced undamped pitch oscillations that lead to a partial breakup of the aircraft when it was about 3,000 feet above the ocean. The board investigating the accident believes the oscillations "may be related to the complex interactions between the aerodynamic, structural, stability and control and propulsion systems on a flexible aircraft." The fuel cell didn't cause it. It hadn't been turned on yet. It's back to the drawing board for the Helios Prototype owner AeroVironment, which is vowing to build an even better fuel-cell aircraft with the tough lessons learned so far.