Boeing Fuel-Cell Experiment Nears Flight-Test Phase

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Boeing researchers in Europe plan to conduct manned flight tests this year of a single-engine airplane powered only by a fuel cell and lightweight batteries, the company said on Tuesday. Flight testing will take place in Spain. The demonstrator aircraft is a highly modified Dimona motorglider built by Diamond Aircraft. With a wingspan of 53.5 feet, the airplane will cruise at about 54 knots on fuel-cell power. The fuel-cell/lithium-ion battery hybrid system will power an electric motor coupled to a conventional propeller. The fuel cell provides all power for the cruise phase of flight. During takeoff and climb, the system draws on lightweight lithium-ion batteries. Fuel cells are emission-free and quieter than conventional engines. "Given the efficiency and environmental benefits of emerging fuel-cell technology, Boeing wants to be on the forefront of developing and applying it to aerospace products," said Francisco Escarti, managing director of the project. "While Boeing does not envision that fuel cells will provide primary power for future commercial passenger airplanes, demonstrations like this help pave the way for potentially using this technology in small manned and unmanned air vehicles."