German fuel cell plane makes maiden flight | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 07.07.2009
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Science

German fuel cell plane makes maiden flight

The world's only piloted aircraft using fuel cell propulsion technology took off from Hamburg airport on Tuesday on its first public flight, proving that hydrogen-powered transportation is not a pipe dream.

fuel cell glider in flight

The world's first fuel cell glider is a breakthrough for aviation

During its 10-minute maiden flight, the Antares DLR-H2 aircraft was piloted by Axel Lange, the 46-year-old head of one of the companies which adapted the motor-assisted glider to demonstrate the new technology.

The "H2" is completely CO²-free and considerably quieter than conventional gliders, and it represents a major leap in fuel cell technology.

"The power and efficiency of fuel cell technology has been improved to such an extent that a manned airplane can now take off," said Prof. Dr. Johann-Dietrich Woerner, chairman of the board at the German Aerospace Center, DLR.

The current propulsion model and aerodynamics of the glider allows a top speed of about 170 kilometers per hour (105 mph), but work is already well advanced to raise that to 300 kph.

In its search for new ways to reduce fuel consumption and pollution from air traffic, the German ministry of economics and technology commissioned the DLR to develop an alternative aircraft propulsion system.

German U31 submarine

Fuel cell propulsion is already driving German submarines

The DLR then teamed up with Lange Aviation, BASF Fuel Cells and the Danish company Serenergy for the project, with European airplane manufacturer, Airbus, contributing some work.

Fuel cell technology already in submarines

Fuel cells, which use hydrogen as a propellant, are not expected to be usable as a primary propulsion source for passenger aircraft in the near future, but have been operational in German 212-A-class submarines since 2005.

The DLR project is aiming to develop fuel cells under real operational conditions so that they can be used as reliable on-board power supplies in civil aviation.

Further applications may arise from the combination of fuel cell systems and other regenerative energies as a power source for high-altitude and long endurance aircraft, the DLR says.

gb/dpa/DLR

Editor: Chuck Penfold

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