Joby Aviation says it completed a 523-mile test flight of a hydrogen-powered air taxi

by Pelican Press
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Joby Aviation says it completed a 523-mile test flight of a hydrogen-powered air taxi

Joby Aviation says a hydrogen-powered version of its electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft successfully completed a 523-mile test flight. The only byproduct from the prototype, which has a liquid hydrogen fuel cell and hydrogen-electric propulsion system, was water vapor. The company suggested that the test flight points toward a future of emissions-free regional aviation in an industry that still relies heavily on fossil fuels.

This is believed to be the first liquid hydrogen-powered eVTOL forward flight. Joby kept the same shell and most of the guts of its battery-electric air taxi but it reduced the battery load and installed a fuel tank that can store up to 40 kilograms of liquid hydrogen. This is pumped into a fuel cell system to produce electricity, water and heat. The electricity generated from the fuel cell powers the air taxi’s six electric motors while the batteries deliver extra power during take off and landing.

Joby is set to start commercial operations of its air taxi as soon as 2025. While the eVTOL doesn’t need a runway, it’s limited to a range of 100 miles before it needs to be charged up, making it a good option for short hops like from your home to the airport. Should the hydrogen-powered model ever go into production, it could result in emission-free inter-city aviation that’s faster than travelling by road or traditional planes. It’ll be quicker to refuel a hydrogen-powered air taxi than to recharge an eVTOL too.

“Imagine being able to fly from San Francisco to San Diego, Boston to Baltimore or Nashville to New Orleans without the need to go to an airport and with no emissions except water,” Joby founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt said in a statement. “That world is closer than ever, and the progress we’ve made towards certifying the battery-electric version of our aircraft gives us a great head start as we look ahead to making hydrogen-electric flight a reality.”

One major barrier in bringing this vision to fruition is obtaining enough sustainably sourced liquid hydrogen. As Inc. notes, that was a major factor in preventing Universal Hydrogen, a now-shuttered startup, from finding success. That company and ZeroAvia completed test flights of hydrogen-powered planes over the last couple of years.

However, Bevirt is confident that there will be sufficient support from governments for hydrogen and green hydrogen supply and distribution. The US allocated $7 billion to set up green hydrogen hubs across the country under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. “The world is shifting to a hydrogen economy and aviation is one of the most important use cases for that green hydrogen supply,” Bevirt told Inc.

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