Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS) has revealed the design of its 240kW hydrogen fuel cell system (HFCS), successfully integrating the technology into the nacelle of a Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander.

Packaged in the nacelle, which usually houses the BN-2’s piston or turbine engine, are the fuel cells, balance of plant and electric motors.

CAeS Demonstrator Design-c-CAeS

Source: Cranfield Aerospace Solutions

Demonstrator is based on Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander

CAeS says the forward section of the nacelle houses the fuel cells, the balance of plant and electric motor, inverters and controllers, a pitch control unit, and all the electrical cabling/routing and cooling systems. The rear part of the nacelle contains the ground power interface and the high-voltage power distribution system.

“The successful integration of a 240kW system (110% of the power of the engine that it replaces) into the nacelle showcases CAeS’ ability to overcome these challenges and is a ‘miracle of packaging’ that underscores the feasibility of hydrogen-electric propulsion systems for aircraft,” says CAeS.

Meanwhile, the Reaction Engines-supplied heat exchangers are mounted around the existing main landing gear.

“This integration required meticulous planning, iterative design, and close coordination with partner Reaction Engines, to ensure optimal performance,” says CAeS.

CAeS is developing the powertrain as part of a UK government-backed initiative called Project Fresson to develop a hydrogen-powered demonstrator.

CAeS Demonstrator packaging-c-CAeS

Source: Cranfield Aerospace Solutions

‘Miracle of packaging’ saw powertrain integrated with nacelle

While that project – and CAeS’s initial sales efforts – focus on conversion of the venerable Islander, the company is already thinking about its next steps.

“With the successful packaging of the HFCS into the nacelle, CAeS can explore integration into other aircraft platforms and applications,” it says.

Despite posing the question “So, when will we see it fly?” in its press release, CAeS does not say when the modified Islander will get airborne. Its most recent target was for a first flight later in 2024.

Jenny Kavanagh, chief strategy officer at CAeS, adds: “The decision was taken early on in the programme that before proceeding to ground and flight test, we had to ensure that we had solved the packaging and thermal management challenges that underpin the commercial viability of the technology.

“Now that this significant milestone has been achieved, CAeS is progressing to the next stage of the project and to launching into manufacture for the testing campaign.”