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Universal Hydrogen Charts a New Course in Sustainable Aviation in the Mojave Desert

On September 26, 2023, sustainable aviation’s future made a giant leap forward amidst the Mojave Desert’s vast expanse. Universal Hydrogen Co launched a flight test campaign for its hydrogen-powered regional aircraft at the Mojave Air & Space Port.

Lightning McClean cruising the skies of Mojave (Photo: Business Wire)

The day marked another significant chapter following a series of monumental achievements for the company. In March 2023, Universal Hydrogen celebrated the first-ever flight of the world’s largest hydrogen fuel cell-powered airplane. Notably, this aircraft is also the most substantial plane to use hydrogen as its fuel predominantly.

Universal Hydrogen is on a mission — with ten test flights under its belt, the company is steaming ahead toward its vision of commercial deployment by 2026.

Cruising at 5,000 ft on Hydrogen Power

The highlight of the kickoff flight was the aircraft’s ability to cruise at 5,000 feet MSL, drawing the power largely from its hydrogen powertrain. Such advancements are not just about achieving flight efficiencies; they are a significant step towards curbing the aviation industry’s carbon emissions.

Angelina Galiteva, the CEO of ARCHES (Alliance for Renewable Clean Hydrogen Energy Systems), remarked, “It’s a great example of how California-based companies like Universal Hydrogen are working to alleviate the impacts of climate change and improve local air quality all while bringing tangible community benefits like good paying jobs and technological innovation to California. We look forward to partnering with Universal Hydrogen, as part of the Alliance for Renewable Clean Hydrogen Energy Systems (ARCHES) hydrogen hub, to make zero emission flight a commercial reality for everyone!”

The future looks promising, with a two-year flight test campaign underway. This initiative will focus on enhancing the hydrogen fuel cell powertrain’s performance. It will introduce revolutionary hardware, such as a custom-developed aviation-grade turbocompressor. Critically, it will also count towards FAA certification testing to validate the aircraft’s safety and airworthiness.

Importance of Mojave Air & Space Port

California Assemblyman Tom Lackey lauded the efforts. “Aerospace Valley continues to operate on the cutting edge of flight technology,” said Lackey. “The Mojave Air & Space Port has a long-standing history of innovation that we are very proud of. This partnership with Universal Hydrogen will benefit the region and keep California competitive in sustainable energy for our future.”

Universal Hydrogen’s decision to anchor its operations at the Mojave Air & Space Port isn’t merely logistical. The company’s headquarters are nearby at Hawthorne. Also, the engineering talent in Los Angeles and Mojave regions makes the location an ideal nexus for collaboration and innovation.

Tim Reid, General Manager of Mojave Air & Space Port, said, “We are excited to work with Universal Hydrogen to pave the way to reducing aircraft emissions using a sustainable, green, and increasingly available fuel — hydrogen! Their innovative technology, paired with existing regional aircraft, will revolutionize the industry, leading to a systematic, affordable, and rapid transition to zero-emission transportation.”

Air New Zealand: Preparing a Transition to Hydrogen

Universal Hydrogen’s aspirations align with industry leaders. Kiri Hannifin, Chief Sustainability Officer at Air New Zealand, shared the airline’s intent to collaborate with Universal Hydrogen. “Universal Hydrogen is one of the partners we’re working with on our ambition to replace our Q300 regional turboprops with a lower emissions fleet from 2030. We’re incredibly encouraged by their progress and the milestones achieved to date. We’ll be watching closely as they continue their journey towards certification and entry to service,” said Hannifin.

The Vision of Universal Hydrogen

Universal Hydrogen is not just about reinventing air travel but redefining sustainable logistics. Their innovative approach transports hydrogen in modular capsules, leveraging the existing freight network, making green fuel accessible globally. The company’s primary focus is on regional and narrowbody airplanes, viewing them as ripe opportunities for decarbonization. In addition to pioneering hydrogen fuel technology, Universal Hydrogen is also advancing a powertrain conversion kit. This would retrofit existing regional aircraft to be hydrogen-powered.

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