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Airbus UpNext to Perform Hydrogen Powered Flight With New Flying Testbed

Airbus UpNext has launched a test flight program to study the contrails produced by a hydrogen combustion engine. The project, called ‘Blue Condor’, will launch one modified Arcus glider with a hydrogen combustion engine and another powered by kerosene.

Blue Condor Demonstrator During First Flight - Photo Credit : James Darcy / Airbus

On Wednesday (July 20, 2022), Airbus UpNext, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Airbus, unveiled a new flight test program designed to study the contrails produced by a hydrogen combustion engine, as part of the company’s ZEROe roadmap. The program, called ‘Blue Condor’, will include two modified Arcus gliders, one with a hydrogen powered combustion engine and the other with a conventional kerosene powered engine. The contrails emitted at high altitudes will then be compared. The Blue Condor demonstrator will be supported by the Perlan Project team, which will be responsible for the Arcus Glider modifications. They will also provide high altitude glider pilots, the same pilots who set the subsonic altitude record in 2018 of 76,124 feet, in a pressurized glider for the Airbus Perlan Mission II.

In Wednesday’s announcement, Airbus UpNext’s CEO, Sandra Bour Schaeffer, said,

“Contrail characterisation is of significant interest to Airbus. We know that hydrogen emits no carbon dioxide when burned, but we also know that with water vapour and heat being the most significant by-products, hydrogen combustion does produce contrails. Although these contrails differ significantly to those produced by conventional JetA/A1 combustion engines, understanding their composition will be key to support our decarbonisation journey. In taking up this challenge we are making significant headway in our decarbonisation strategy and our ambition to bring the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft into service by 2035.”

Blue Condor Demonstrator With Pilot Jim Payne on Arrival After First Flight - Photo Credit: Jackie Payne / Airbus

As part of the program, the German Research Centre DLR will collect and analyze data captured using measurement instrumentation sensors on a chase airplane, while Airbus will ensure the provision of the hydrogen system and equipment, including the combustion engine. The Flight tests will be carried out back-to-back under the same meteorological conditions to ensure 100 percent comparable data between the hydrogen and conventional engine. In collaboration with the University of North Dakota, the test flights are scheduled for late 2022 and will take place in North Dakota in the U.S. Airbus is also conducting a range of demonstration programs, including ECLIF3 (Emission and Climate Impact of Alternative Fuels) and VOLCAN (VOL avec Carburants Alternatifs Nouveaux), to help better understand contrails produced by sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

This demonstrator is taking a modified glider up to 33,000 feet – an extreme altitude for an aircraft that normally cruises below 10,000 feet – to analyse hydrogen combustion’s impact on contrail properties. The result of this analysis will provide critical information on aviation’s non-CO2 emissions, including contrails and NOx, in advance of the ZEROe demonstrator flight testing. – Courtesy Airbus

Finally, the Airbus Perlan Mission II program is also continuing, with plans to approach Perlan 2 glider’s 90,000-feet service ceiling in 2023, in order to research upper atmospheric weather. If successful, the Airbus Perlan Mission II would set a world record for wing-borne flight, and would do so in a zero-emission aircraft as well.

Source: Airbus


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