Hydrogen-powered airplane damaged in off-airport landing

ZeroAvia’s Piper test aircraft flew with a hydrogen fuel cell supplying power to the electric motor on September 24, 2020, in Cranfield, England. The aircraft was damaged in an off-airport landing during a test flight on April 29, 2021. Photo courtesy of ZeroAvia.

“The aircraft landed normally on its wheels in a flat grass field and almost came to a stop, but was damaged as it caught the left main gear and wing in the uneven terrain at the end of the field at low speed,” ZeroAvia said in a news release that was posted on its website.

A newspaper photo posted online showed the aircraft with a separated left wing and other damage following the accident.

The mishap involving ZeroAvia’s converted Piper M-class airplane occurred on a “routine pattern test flight” on an approved test route. There were no injuries, and after the landing the crew safeguarded the battery and released hydrogen from tanks aboard the aircraft following the company safety protocols, ZeroAvia said.

No fluid leaks were detected, and “full data logs were preserved and will be used in our investigation.”

Dominic Cheater, ZeroAvia’s head of airworthiness, will lead a team that will conduct an internal investigation. The team members are independent of the aircraft’s HyFlyer I development program, ZeroAvia said.

“This incident and the ensuing investigation will undoubtedly disrupt our 6-seat HyFlyer demonstration program that was coming to an end in the following weeks,” ZeroAvia said. “However, we do not expect any negative impact on our commercial-intent HyFlyer 2 program targeting 10-20 seat aircraft, or our large-engine development program targeting 50+ seat aircraft.”

On March 31, The Times of London reported that companies including British Airways would invest in ZeroAvia’s work to transfer the six-seater’s power system “into a larger aircraft that could be operational within five years.”

In September 2020, AOPA reported the retrofitted Piper’s first flight with a hydrogen fuel cell powering the motor—using no battery, as had powered the aircraft previously. Interest in the project had spurred government and private investment commitments toward a goal of developing larger versions of the system that could produce zero-emission regional airline service.

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