Hydrogen-powered 40-seat passenger plane completes first test flight

Universal Hydrogen Co. flew a 40-passenger regional airliner using hydrogen fuel cell propulsion - a world first for an aircraft of this type - on 2 March 2023.

The plane, nicknamed Lightning McClean, took off from Grant County International Airport in Washington State and flew for 15 minutes, reaching an altitude of 3,500 Mean Sea Level.

The flight, conducted under an FAA Special Airworthiness Certificate, was the first in a two-year flight test campaign expected to culminate in 2025 with entry into passenger service of ATR 72 regional aircraft converted to run on hydrogen.

Representatives from Connect Airlines and Amelia, the first customers of the hydrogen airplanes in the U.S. and Europe, respectively, were on hand to witness the historic flight.

"Today will go down in the history books as the true start to the decarbonisation of the global airline industry and we at Connect Airlines are extremely proud of the role that we, as the first US operator, will play in leading the way with Universal Hydrogen," said John Thomas, CEO of Connect Airlines, after witnessing the flight.

Connect, which will begin regional turboprop service this spring, has placed a first-position U.S. order with Universal Hydrogen to convert 75 ATR 72-600 regional airplanes to hydrogen powertrains with purchase rights for 25 additional aircraft conversions. Deliveries will start in 2025.