Business & GA, Commercial

Boeing to Test Fuel Cell Airplane

By Tish Drake | March 28, 2007
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Boeing plans to conduct a series to experimental test flights in Europe this year of a manned airplane powered by a fuel cell and lightweight batteries, the company said Wednesday. The goal of the Fuel Cell Demonstrator Airplane research project, the company said, is to develop environmentally progressive technologies for aerospace applications. Boeing Research and Technology -- Europe (BR&TE) recently completed the systems integration phase, which began in 2003. “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," said Francisco Escarti, BR&TE managing director.The Boeing demonstrator uses a Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell/lithium-ion battery hybrid system to power an electric motor, which is coupled to a conventional propeller. The fuel cell provides all power for the cruise phase of flight. During takeoff and climb, the flight segment that requires the most power, the system draws on lightweight lithium-ion batteries. Boeing said the flight tests, which will take place in Spain, will demonstrate for the first time that a manned airplane can maintain a straight level flight with fuel cells as the only power source.The demonstrator aircraft is a Dimona motor glider, built by Diamond Aircraft Industries of Austria, which also performed major structural modifications to the aircraft. With a wing span of 53.5 feet, the airplane will be able to cruise at about 62 miles per hour using fuel cell-provided power.Spanish avionics group Aerlyper performed airframe modifications, mounting and wiring of all components; SAFT France designed and assembled the auxiliary batteries and the backup battery; Air Liquide Spain designed and assembled the onboard fuel system and the refueling station; the Electronic Engineering Division of the Polytechnic University of Madrid collaborated in the design and construction of the power management and distribution box. Other suppliers include UQM Technologies (United States), MT Propeller (Germany), Tecnicas Aeronauticas de Madrid (Spain), Ingenieria de Instrumentacion y Control (Spain), GORE (Germany), Indra (Spain) and Inventia (Spain).

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