ZeroAvia this week started preparing a second Dornier 228 aircraft to serve as a testbed for the hydrogen-electric propulsion system. The 19-seat twin-turboprop regional airliner is at the company’s headquarters in Hollister, California, where it is being fitted with the ZA600 powertrain developed by ZeroAvia's UK-based team under the government-funded HyFlyer II project.
In a May 6 statement, the company said it could take another three or four months to prepare the Dornier 228 to start test flights. ZeroAvia, which is aiming to complete FAA certification for the 600-kW powertrain in 2024, says that the system will power aircraft with between 10 and 20 seats operating on routes of up to around 500 miles.
The Dornier 228 is being converted so that one of its two turboprop engines will operate in tandem with the ZA600 powertrain. ZeroAvia says it is lining up partners with which it will test the viability of a variety of passenger, cargo, and industrial applications for the aircraft.
“This new project in California will allow us to use the architectures from our HyFlyer II initiative, where we are working with the same aircraft, and apply those lessons as we further test and demonstrate the system across a number of different use cases,” said ZeroAvia founder and CEO Val Miftakhov. “Ultimately, this will help us optimize our zero-emission powertrain design ahead of certification. This year, we will have two demonstration aircraft flying on two continents powered by our hydrogen-electric powertrains, which will further help us to secure partner and customer commitments across the worldwide aviation industry.”
During the fourth quarter of 2021, Alaska Air Group and United Airlines agreed to partnerships and funding with ZeroAvia to support the development of the more powerful ZA2000 powertrain that could support aircraft with between 40 and 80 seats, producing between 2,000 kW and 5,000 kW of power. Mitsubishi last year signaled its interest in supporting efforts to convert regional airliners under a supplemental type certificate.
ZeroAvia also launched a collaboration with Zev Station to develop hydrogen refueling infrastructure at Californian airports. In Europe, it is partnered with Octopus Hydrogen and Shell, which is one of its investors.
This week, the company also announced plans to expand the Hollister facility. It has already added a 15,000-square-foot hangar and its HyperTruck ground testbed platform, as well as additional office space.
Meanwhile, the UK Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) last week issued an update on its work to explain how a Piper PA-46-350P aircraft being used by ZeroAvia to test an earlier version of its powertrain crashed near Cranfield Airport on April 29, 2021. The aircraft was powered by a combination of electric motors and a hydrogen fuel cell. The investigators said that it lost power when, as part of a test procedure, the battery was turned off, leaving the electric motors to be powered by the fuel cell.
The ZeroAvia test pilots made a forced landing in a field near the airport, and the aircraft was severely damaged. The AAIB’s full report has now been disseminated to stakeholders for consultation and is expected to be published in mid-2022.