Hydrogen-powered flight: a leap towards sustainable aviation

Explore the revolutionary leap in aviation with Airbus's hydrogen-powered flight. Discover how hydrogen could transform air travel.

In a groundbreaking achievement, Airbus, an ASD member, recently marked a significant milestone for aviation. The Blue Condor, a modified glider at the heart of Airbus UpNext's hydrogen contrail-studying programme, took its first hydrogen-powered flight over Nevada. This historic flight not only showcased the capabilities of hydrogen as a clean fuel source but also initiated a test campaign set to conclude with a contrail-measuring mission in early 2024.

Greener skies: hydrogen's role in low-carbon aviation

Hydrogen, seen as a potential game-changer in achieving low-carbon aviation, presents a promising path for the industry. Unlike conventional jet fuel, hydrogen combustion produces contrails that differ significantly. Instead of sulphur oxides, hydrogen contrails contain nitrous oxides and a substantial amount of water vapor—up to 2.5 times more than contrails from conventional jet fuel.

As part of the ZEROe project, Airbus is committed to studying the composition of hydrogen contrails. The Blue Condor project uses a modified Arcus-J glider, equipped with a small hydrogen-combustion engine. This engine, reaching altitudes of 30,000 feet, will be compared to a similar-sized kerosene engine flying alongside. The goal is to deepen our understanding of hydrogen's impact on climate and contribute to Airbus' ambitious ZEROe target: the world's first hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft by 2035.

The ZEROe concept aircraft

The ZEROe project is at the heart of Airbus’s work towards net zero aviation. All four ZEROe concepts being researched and developed by Airbus rely on hydrogen as a power source, using either hydrogen combustion or hydrogen fuel cells. The concepts include:

·       Turbofan: Range 2,000+ nm, Passengers <200

·       Turboprop: Range 1,000+ nm, Passengers <100

·       Blended-Wing Body (BWB): Range 2,000+ nm, Passengers <200

·       Fully Electrical Concept: Range 1,000 nm, Passengers <100

Airbus is working towards technology and testing milestones to achieve its vision of a hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft by 2035. The company is exploring both hydrogen-combustion and fuel-cell propulsion technologies, with dedicated development centres across Europe. The A380 MSN1 test aircraft is taking the lead in testing these crucial technologies, vital for bringing hydrogen-powered aviation to the market.

Building the hydrogen-powered ecosystem

Airbus recognises that the journey towards hydrogen-powered commercial aviation begins on the ground. Establishing a hydrogen infrastructure at airports is crucial for the widespread adoption of hydrogen aircraft. Airbus is therefore collaborating with hydrogen producers, distributors, airports, and airlines to build an ecosystem that can support hydrogen-powered flight by 2035.

This collaborative effort involves working with airports to decarbonise facilities, ground operations, and transport using hydrogen. The vision extends beyond the aircraft itself, aiming to create a sustainable aviation ecosystem that addresses the entire lifecycle of hydrogen-powered flight.

As Airbus propels the aviation industry towards a sustainable future, the successful hydrogen-powered flight of the Blue Condor marks a significant step in realizing the ambitious ZEROe project. Airbus, along with its ASD counterparts, is pioneering a new era of flight – one powered by innovation, collaboration, and a commitment to a sustainable planet.

Source: Airbus