Three distinctive aircraft concepts have revealed a potential vision of the future for aerospace.
The FlyZero designs were unveiled by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) today (11 March), in one of the project’s biggest steps towards its aim of realising zero-carbon commercial aviation by 2030.
Designed to demonstrate the potential of carbon-free flight, the regional, narrowbody and midsize concepts are all powered by liquid hydrogen, which the FlyZero project has previously determined as the most promising zero-carbon fuel. According to its studies, hydrogen could be used for 100% of short-haul flights and 93% of existing scheduled long-haul flights.
The choice of fuel results in some eye-catching design features on the three concepts. Hydrogen has a high specific energy, meaning much less fuel by weight is required compared to kerosene. Hydrogen aircraft will also require more integration between the propulsion system and the airframe, as the phase change from liquid to gas and associated energy management present novel challenges.
The narrowbody concept, for example, features a distinctive canard on the nose of the plane, part of a three-lifting-surface (3LS) configuration to provide improved longitudinal trim authority. The midsize concept has a large liquid hydrogen tank in the rear of the fuselage and two ‘delta’ tanks ahead of the wings, while the regional design uses six electric propulsor units in a distributed propulsion system, increasing redundancy.
Each of the designs has its own specific objectives. The regional aircraft is designed to demonstrate the feasibility of a fuel cell powered aircraft, while the narrowbody explores how hydrogen could replace carbon fuels in the largest and most competitive commercial aviation sector. The midsize assesses the potential for hydrogen to cover long-haul routes, overturning the view that hydrogen aircraft would be limited to shorter routes.
The project also identified and investigated six key ‘technology bricks’ that require rapid development to unlock liquid hydrogen flight. The bricks are hydrogen fuel systems and tanks, hydrogen gas turbines, hydrogen fuel cells, electrical propulsion systems, aerodynamic structures and thermal management.
The technology development requirements – and the opportunity for the UK to secure its part in delivering them – are outlined in the new FlyZero Technology Roadmaps report.
“Significant technical, safety and operational challenges remain, which must be characterised and solved before a hydrogen powered aircraft could achieve certification and enter commercial service, but the FlyZero analysis has shown sufficient promise that further hydrogen technology research should be pursued,” the report says.
“Considerable uncertainty exists around certification standards and some sustainability aspects such as contrails – further work to understand these areas should be undertaken in parallel.”
The FlyZero concepts will continue to be updated by the ATI as hydrogen knowledge and technologies develop.
The ATI will release further reports in the coming weeks, including a ‘flagship’ report with conclusions and recommendations next Thursday (17 March).