Fokker Next Gen has ditched plans to modify a Fokker 100 to run on hydrogen power to focus entirely on developing a clean-sheet zero-emission airliner for service entry in 2035.

Under its original plans, the Dutch company had planned to retrofit a hydrogen-burning Rolls-Royce Pearl 15 business jet engine onto the legacy F100 as a “stepping-stone” to a future all-new platform. 

FNG_V3 second-c-Fokker Next Gen

Source: Fokker Next Gen

Clean-sheet design will be powered by dual-fuel engines capable of running on liquid hydrogen or SAF

Conceptual design activities for the modification were due to be completed by the end of 2024, leading to a first flight in 2028.

But, says chief executive Juriaan Kellermann, after consultation with potential partners and suppliers it became apparent “that the costs involved” to adapt the F100 would have been too great to justify.

Issues included potentially costly engineering related to changes to the airframe and the need to switch the engine controls from hydraulic to electrical.

“It turned out not to be economically viable. This is one of the main reasons to do a clean-sheet aircraft,” says Kellermann.

In his view, the conversion effort had become less about propulsion-related research and development and more about the engineering needed to modify an older aircraft. “We need a more current platform to do these tests on,” he adds.

That work was part of a project under the Dutch government’s Luchtvaart in Transitie green aviation programme and had attracted €25 million ($26.8 million) in funding.

Fokker Next Gen is also participating in a Rolls-Royce-led project funded by the European Commission’s Clean Aviation programme.

Called CAVENDISH, the initiative is modifying a Pearl 15 engine to run on liquid hydrogen in ground tests, ultimately supporting plans to fly the engine in Clean Aviation’s second phase.

Alongside Dassault Aviation and Embraer, Fokker Next Gen is one of three airframers involved in CAVENDISH. The Dutch firm says the design work to integrate a liquid hydrogen test engine into an F100 “is an essential component” of the project.

fokker-next-gen-aircraftV1-c-Fokker Next Gen

Source: Fokker Next Gen

Earlier clean-sheet concept featured highly elliptical fuselage and rear-mounted engines

Although it remains part of the CAVENDISH consortium, Fokker Next Gen’s role within the project is changing, says Kellerman “based on the revised company strategy”; Clean Aviation is “in the process of approving the revised plan in that respect”, he adds.

But with the engineering work to convert the F100 no longer required, the company is now pressing ahead with its clean-sheet plans.

Fokker Next Gen intends to develop a small narrowbody, capable of carrying 120-150 passengers in a 3+3 layout on routes of up to 1,400nm (2,590km) when burning liquid hydrogen in its twin turbofan engines.

Earlier this year, the would-be airframer revealed updated renderings of its proposed aircraft, designed to be more representative of the configuration it is pursuing.

These show a switch from an aircraft with a distinctive elliptical fuselage, low wing and rear-mounted engines to a more conventional high-wing design with a tubular fuselage and wing-mounted high-bypass turbofans. A T-tail is about the only design feature that has survived from the original concept.

It is still intended that the aircraft has a dual-fuel system, enabling the jet to also use sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) if hydrogen is unavailable. One of CAVENDISH’s three objectives is to “explore alternative enabling technologies in the form of a dual fuel combustor system”, European Commission documents state.

However, Kellermann says range will be halved when using SAF. “First and foremost, we are developing a hydrogen-combustion-powered aircraft – any concessions will be towards the range on SAF.”

FNG_V2-c-Fokker Next Gen

Source: Fokker Next Gen

Proposed range on liquid hydrogen is 1,400nm

Fokker Next Gen’s designs see the cryogenic hydrogen fuel system located in the aft fuselage to the rear of the passenger cabin, resulting in an aircraft that is slightly longer than existing 150-seaters such as the 34m (111ft)-long Airbus A319neo or 35.5m Boeing 737 Max 7.

The engines would need to be of a similar thrust class to those powering current-generation small narrowbodies, producing around 18,000-20,000lb (80-89kN).

No powerplant has been selected for the project, not least that no manufacturer has so far committed to producing a liquid hydrogen-combustion engine of the size required, he says, although talks continue with all the OEMs.

In the meantime, work continues on the technologies needed to support the programme: for example, Fokker Next Gen’s goal is to have the hydrogen storage and distribution system at TRL6 by 2026 or 2027. Completing a digital twin of the aircraft is also an early priority, enabling the company to “accelerate development” of the programme.

Design and development activities will culminate in a technical freeze in the 2029-2030 timeframe, enabling a prototype to fly by 2032, followed by service entry three years later.

Kellermann says the firm is aiming for annual output of 150-175 aircraft within five years of service entry across a pair of planned production lines in the Netherlands and Latvia.

But how such a complex and costly project will be funded is not year clear. Kellermann argues that Fokker Next Gen will be an “integrator” rather than developing its own technologies or systems, lowering the total investment needed.

He sees a combination of funding sources under a “collaborative effort”, involving risk- and reward-sharing partnerships with the firm’s supply chain, alongside government funding and commercial loans.

FNG1-c-Fokker Next Gen

Source: Fokker Next Gen

Aircraft will be built on production lines in the Netherlands and Latvia

Fokker Next Gen is also backed by parent company Panta Holdings, which also owns Fokker Services, the F100’s type certificate holder, and all-electric developer Elysian Aircraft.

Nonetheless, a Series A funding round is currently under way, due to conclude in the autumn. Kellermann declines to detail how much is being sought but says it is “for a large amount” that will enable completion of preliminary design review activities and contracting of “early-stage suppliers”.

Being the heir to the earlier Fokker’s legacy has its advantages, he argues. “We do have the pedigree and we have done this before. We still have that capability, knowledge and experience.

“Although we are not Airbus or Boeing our stakeholders also see that as an advantage as we can focus on one product; we can move more nimbly.”

Even if the F100 will not become a flying testbed, Fokker Next Gen is still contemplating a future demonstrator to help mature the technologies being developed.

“We are now looking to build some kind of consortium to build a flying testbed that could be used for multiple suppliers,” says Kellermann. That could also include work through Clean Aviation’s second phase – whether as part of a follow-on to CAVENDISH or as a separate project – which is due to get under way in 2026.

Fokker Next Gen is the latest iteration of a company that has been looking to resurrect the storied Dutch brand since 1996, initially as Rekkof Restart and then the Netherlands Aircraft Company.

Earlier plans sought a restart of F70 or F100 production, before morphing into the F120NG and ultimately F130NG – a stretched 130-passenger variant to be powered by Pratt & Whitney PW1200G engines. However, none of these aircraft ever left the drawing board.