AeroDelft: electric taxiing as a prelude to emission-free flying

Student team AeroDelft had a modified airplane taxi electrically over the runway in Breda on 7 July 2022. In a year’s time, the aircraft could be flying on hydrogen.

Student team AeroDelft next to the converted plane. (Photo: AeroDelft)

Flying was not yet on the cards, and neither was hydrogen. Nevertheless, student team AeroDelft’s media man Gerben Drijfhout was very happy with the demonstration at Breda International Airport. A small blue aeroplane with a lot of stickers on its fuselage rolled silently over the runway to close the AeroDelft summer event.

The electrically powered aircraft is barely audible. (Video: AeroDelft)

The standard Sling 4 aircraft comes with four seats and a 115 hp (86 kW) gasoline engine that can carry up to 920 kilograms. The students are planning to gradually convert the aircraft for electric propulsion with a fuel cell and liquid hydrogen. This will come at the expense of two seats.

For the demonstration on Thursday evening, 7 July 2022, the aircraft drew its electricity from batteries, limiting the power to 10 kW, estimated to be sufficient for a terrestrial speed of 50 km/h.

“We need the fuel cell for more electrical power on board,” explains first year Aerospace Engineering (AE) student Gerben Drijfhout. “The parts are slowly coming in now.”

The aim is to demonstrate the first flight on gaseous hydrogen next year (2023) and the first flight on liquid hydrogen the year after that (2024).

The students are aware that heating the gas and cooling the fuel cell will involve complicated technical issues. Nevertheless, they prefer liquid hydrogen to storing it under high pressure as gas cylinders are too heavy for the aircraft.

Drone development is one step ahead of aircraft development. (Video: AeroDelft)

In parallel with the construction of the Sling, the team is also working on a 1:3 scale model of the aircraft. The drone has a wingspan of six metres and weighs 40 kilograms. It already flies on batteries and is thus ready to fly on liquid hydrogen, says AeroDelft. The scale model acts as a test platform for hydrogen technology.

Flying on hydrogen is only CO2 neutral if the hydrogen is too. “That’s what we’re working on,” Drijfhout explains. “We are strict with our partners too as we only want to operate on green hydrogen.”

Science editor Jos Wassink

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