ZeroAvia Hydrogen Test Bed Crashes After Off-Airport Landing

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ZeroAvia’s ambitious program to develop hydrogen-powered aircraft suffered a setback on April 29 when its Piper Malibu Mirage testbed was severely damaged in an off-airport landing in the U.K. The aircraft landed in a field adjacent to Cranfield Airport. The left wing was sheared off in the mishap, as was the nosegear. There was also extensive fuselage and tail damage. The aircraft appeared to have hit a hedge during the rollout. There were no injuries.

“On April 29th, our R&D aircraft made a safe, off-airport landing in a field just outside the Bedfordshire airport,” ZeroAvia said in a tweet. “Aircraft has sustained some damage, but everybody involved is safe, and without injury. As we analyze the flight data, we will provide updates as we learn more.” There was no post-crash fire. The reason for the off-airport landing was not released

The aircraft was in Cranfield warming up for its first cross-country flight, a 70-mile hop from Cranfield to Kemble. The company recently bought a 19-seat aircraft for conversion to hydrogen power and said it intended to build a 50-seat airliner next and have a 100-seat plane in the air by the end of the decade.

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37 COMMENTS

  1. Hydrogen fuel cell – and yes there was no fire and everyone can guess why, the same reason it did not make it to the airport. It will be interesting to see if the investigation become public or not.

  2. It was on takeoff roll (scuffed hedge so didn’t get to min takeoff clearance), so it’s not that it didn’t get to the airport, it was trying to leave! Will be interesting to see report on cause of loss of power. Similar powertrain issues have happened for the early battery / electric twin seaters.

    Also, all incidents are reported via AAIB with technical details (aviation has excellent safety due to this transparency). Note, although this would have been a “low” velocity crash, it is a good sign that the fuel cells and hydrogen tanks maintained integrity.

    I did like the note in the piece about the aircraft “warming up” before a x-country flight. Didn’t realise electric motors needed warming up! (or do the fuel cells need to be run in for a bit to maintain performance at peak demand?)

  3. Well, whatever happened, the prop wasn’t turning. Just one blade is bent. Probably the one that was facing downwards. I like the other poster’s comment about “early electric planes”. ANY electric plane right now is an early one.

  4. God bless those willing to create and invent. Piper, Cessna, Beech, , Bell, Boeing, Wright Brothers, Goddard, von Braun, SpaceEx. Invention is not without risk. My hat is off to the entire crew at ZeroAvia. Thank you ZeroAvia!

        • Yup, history… The Wright brothers were a couple of bicycle mechanics trusting their lives (and passengers’) to what were basically kites, with Orville as PIC for a flight that resulted in the first airplane passenger fatality. I mean, good on them – they were innovators! But still, it was dangerous as hell.

          And folks criticizing SpaceX all seem to all forget that back in the -60s the Atlas rockets were frequently blowing up and had a success rate of a little over 50 percent when John Glenn launched into orbit. Innovation, and risk.

          My hats off to them and ZeroAvia for pushing the envelope. Hydrogen may or may not be the fuel of the future. Batteries may or may not be the ultimate answer. But I for one dream of a day when personal aviation doesn’t have to involve flying behind an incredibly complex, maintenance-prone, inefficient, polluting beast that is the internal combustion engine.

    • Well said Jeff. New inventions are always messy and hopefully today we can limit loss of life and injury, as progress is made, but as the cliche goes -to make an omelette you have to break some eggs.

  5. There is a way for hydrogen to work in aviation. The fuel cell is not the answer. Expensive project failures are proving what we have known for years. Science always comes first. Electric flight is in the works without a huge battery storage problem.

  6. That is quite a setback. Glad everyone is safe. Curious how a proven airframe with a proven motor and proven hydrogen technology ends up in a ditch. This should have been a real yawn of a project.

  7. I can’t see full length of prop blades to see if were turning on impact, one may be in the ground if three-bladed.

    Many hedges are dense and tough. Leaving the old airport east of London England I noticed many hedges between fields, poor visibility driving down lanes (aka ‘roads’). Early settlers in eastern IA planted a type of shrub that was quite tough, economical and effective, perhaps a variety in the ‘box’ family. Dense wood with fine grain.

  8. From reading these comments one would get the impression that this failure is part of a trend or something. Well, I don’t know much about hydrogen power, but I’ve been around the planet awhile.

    Very, very few great advances are not preceded by multiple failures. I’m going to hope that is taken as a reminder of the truth and no one asks me for a link to a study.

  9. From the above information, it is hard to tell what happened but it seems that the plane did not achieve sufficient speed to get out of ground effect. One of the problems with fuel cells is that they have a very slow response time. Typically, they would use battery power for dynamic response and takeoff power and the fuel cell for sustained power.

  10. If we wanted to pursue electric flight the only technology other than ICE powered on board generation is the fuel cell. Batteries are a dead end due to poor power to weight ratio and expense. Electric cars can function even though they are remarkably heavy for their size. A plane needs useful load.

    Still, I think this whole thing is driven by government and special interest groups as fossil fuel remains relatively cheap and very plentiful, especially in the US where we should use our natural resources for the good of the people and the economy.

    • It depends on the mission and the required range. The energy needed for batteries is less than half that of hydrogen and the cost is probably more like a quarter. Although batteries weight more on an energy bass, the complexity and the maintenance will be less. If 500 nm range is sufficient, the following may be of interest:

      April 22, 2021 – Bye Aerospace has announced an eight-seat all-electric twin turbo-prop class airplane, the eFlyer 800™, in response to growing demands for regional all-electric airplanes with significantly reduced operating costs, plus increased capacity and utility. Performance estimates for the eFlyer 800 include up to 320 knot cruise speed, 35,000 feet ceiling and 500 nm range with 45-minute IFR reserves at normal cruise speed of 280 knots. Bye Aerospace is using a solid state Lithium Sulfur battery from OXIS Energy that has about twice the energy density of Lithium-Ion batteries.

      Also, an Israeli company is developing the Eviation Alice, an 11-place plane using Lithium-Ion batteries that is expected to have a 440 nm range with a 220 knot cruise.

      Both of these planes have an expected seat mile cost about 1/10 that of a conventional turbo-prop plane.

        • I would give them both a 90+% chance of getting off the ground as in actually building a flying aircraft. Commercial success may be somewhat more difficult but it is early days and both companies have interested customers. Also, Bye Aerospace has had their 2 seat trainer flying for several years and is working on FAA compliance. Their big plus is that they claim a $23/hr total operational cost which is about 1/5 that of a Cessna 172. Bye also has a 4 seat prototype flying.

          See https://byeaerospace.com/electric-airplane/

          Battery aircraft may not work for trans-continental flights but they are going to happen for short commuter flights because the cost of energy and maintenance is so much less.

  11. Handy thing about hydrogen is that it can run fuel cells to power electric motors or be burned directly to produce thrust, with no problematic emissions. Plus it can be produced by renewable power from water. That’s a pretty promising set of characteristics. No doubt ZeroAvia will push forward and get another testbed airborne soon. More power to them and everyone else working towards a cleaner future. I admit to being part of a special interest group; one that wants to leave a habitable planet for our kids.

  12. I’m amazed how often “it’s never gonna work” appears in the comments on this site. WE FLY AIRPLANES, which was *impossible* since forever until 118 years ago.

    Thank God for dreamers. Including the ones that gave their lives and wallets for their dream. This world would be really boring without them.