Powered by hydrogen: Experimental plane revs up for testing in Central Washington

Is hydrogen the green aviation fuel of the future? An industry team led by California-based Universal Hydrogen is testing out that proposition amid the scrublands of

central Washington state. Universal Hydrogen is readying its converted De Havilland Dash 8-300 turboprop plane for initial flight tests later this year at Grant County

International Airport in Moses Lake, Wash., with an assist from Washington state partners including Seattle-based AeroTEC and Everett-based MagniX. Last week, Universal

Hydrogen announced that it spun up the propeller on the plane’s MagniX-built electric motor powered completely by hydrogen fuel for the first time. This week, “Lightning McClean”

is set to start ground testing in earnest. “We’ll run the powertrain on the ground with the aircraft static … up to maximum power,” Mark Cousin, Universal Hydrogen’s

chief technology officer, told GeekWire. “Once we’re happy with the behavior of the system, we will then move into taxi testing and the buildup to flight.” The timing

for the first flight test depends on how well the ground tests go — perhaps within the next few months, if things go exceptionally well. Why hydrogen? Universal

Hydrogen was founded in 2020 by a group of aviation industry veterans who were frustrated to see how slowly the rest of the industry was moving toward climate-friendly,

zero-emission air travel. “Decarbonization of aviation is really hard,” Cousin said. “We don’t believe it’s going to be done with batteries. And the key market within

the aviation business, that produces nearly 60% of aviation emissions, is the single-aisle family of aircraft.”