Universal Hydrogen Flies Partially Hydrogen-Powered Dash 8


Universal Hydrogen’s modified twin-engine De Havilland Canada DHC8-Q300 has flown for the first time powered in part by the company’s hydrogen powertrain. The flight took place on Thursday at Washington’s Grant County International Airport (KMWH), lasting for 15 minutes and reaching an altitude of 3,500 MSL. For its first venture, just one of the Dash 8’s stock engines was replaced with a hydrogen powertrain.

“During the second circuit over the airport, we were comfortable with the performance of the hydrogen powertrain, so we were able to throttle back the fossil fuel turbine engine to demonstrate cruise principally on hydrogen power,” said Universal Hydrogen chief test pilot Alex Kroll. “The airplane handled beautifully, and the noise and vibrations from the fuel cell powertrain are significantly lower than from the conventional turbine engine.”

According to Universal, its powertrain is built around Plug Power’s ProGen family of fuel cells and uses a modified magniX magni650 electric propulsion unit. Thursday’s flight is the first in a planned two-year flight test campaign, after which the company is aiming for its powertrain to enter passenger service on a converted ATR 72. Universal reports that it currently has orders for 247 aircraft conversions from 16 customers worldwide.

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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  1. Looks like a great practical solution to rapidly move to hydrogen power on a proven airframe. Very encouraging to see 247 orders already. And looking at their website, they have effectively figured out supply logistics. Nicely done!

  2. I think hydrogen fuel cells and electric motors are the future of propeller driven aviation. Electric motors driven by hydrogen fuel cells are 3 times more efficient at delivering power than internal combustion engines, are much quieter, have much less environmental impact and offer the same range. The trick now will be efficiently manufacturing and distributing hydrogen, which will likely be driven by economics and environmental regulations. it would accelerate the transition if aviation operators were offered substantial tax credits for using this technology.

  3. The investors duped into funding hydrogen fuel development didn’t pay attention in science class.

    Hydrogen fuel requires more energy to produce than it provides. This hydrogen airplane polluted the environment with the coal and natural gas emissions created when it was produced. And if that isn’t cause enough to look elsewhere for solutions, hydrogen is created from water. One only need to look at Lake Powel and Lake Mead to recognize how immoral it is to turn drinkable water into fuel these days.

    • Why the concern over how much energy is required to convert water to useful fuel? Any useful fuel has a cost, both in dollars and in watts. This company is focussed in part on converting energy that is renewable (e.g., wind farms or hydro) into a form which can not only be used in aviation, but which can readily be transported from the remote generation site to the airport. ‘Tis no accident that their name is “Universal Hydrogen”, not “Universal Aircraft”.

      The transportable aspect also means that it can be generated at locations which aren’t potentially threatened by draughts.

      • The “why” should be obvious. Wind/solar/hydro is incredibly limited and diverting it to make a fuel that has LESS energy than it took to create it is madness. Add to that the losses from cooling and venting and madness becomes insanity.

  4. There is no concern about cost. All must be sacrificed to The Environment, which has taken on god like/idolatry proportions for a portion on the population.

    With that said, as I have opined before, IF a person wanted electric flight HFC is the best, perhaps only way to do it.

    Batteries are a fail based on weight and very poor energy density.

    H2 has advantages.

    -It will work.

    -Quick refueling. The infrastructure does not exist but throw enough of your money at the problem it can be built.

    -Adequate energy density.

    -It can be made from US based fossil fuels, which are plentiful.

    FWIW it seems Moses Lake, just to my north, is becoming an epicenter of e-plane development and testing for some reason. In general I’m not a proponent of the need for it, but I’m glad to see Moses Lake developing notoriety in this field.

  5. Hydrogen, while it CAN be made by cracking water, mostly comes from cracking methane (CH4), a much more efficient process already in wide use in the food processing industry (hydrogenated oils). All of the liquid hydrogen Stennis Space center used to test Space Shuttle Main Engines was a drop in the bucket compared to what their supplier was already making for the food industry. So essentially, electricity from fuel cells is still sourced from fossil fuels. Even it it weren’t, guess what the exhaust is from fuel cells: water…

    • Actually, the uses you mention are but a small fraction of the amount of hydrogen that is produced in the refining and petrochemical industries. Refineries use hydrogen to upgrade crude oil base stocks to high quality components of gasoline and diesel/jet fuels, as well as removing sulfur from those fuels for air pollution control. The petrochemical industry uses H2 to make fertilizer, plastics and a whole host of other products. You are correct, that most of it is done by cracking methane, with the resultant release of CO2 to the atmosphere. This is referred to as “gray” hydrogen. It is by far the largest volume of H2 produced. It is also produced at the site where it is utilized, so there is little or no transportation issues involved. The so called “blue” and “green” hydrogen touted by environmentalists is usually produced by electrolysis of water through a couple different processes. That is the hydrogen intended as a fuel source for future vehicles and aircraft – either through fuel cells or direct combustion.

      The production and handling of hydrogen is well known and has been around for over a century. The problem is that both blue and green hydrogen are bing produced in relatively small quantities and are generally not manufactured where it will be used. So, a transportation infrastructure has not been developed to handle the volume of gas needed for the future. This issue could be addressed in one of two ways: 1) Produce the hydrogen at a remote site close to an electric power station and then pipeline the gas to the consumption point where it will be liquefied for use in the vehicles. 2) Produce and liquefy the hydrogen on-site, avoiding the need for the pipeline system. However, option 2 requires having ready access to the power grid at a point where the lines can handle the large amount of electricity needed for the generation and liquefaction of the hydrogen. This may require installing additional high voltage lines dedicated to the end use. Either way, a significant investment in new infrastructure will be required before the so-called hydrogen future can arrive. Building the airplane to use the hydrogen is just the tip of a large, and very expensive, iceberg.