Airbus claims to have scored an industry first by powering an aircraft system with a fuel cell system in flight in its quest to develop zero-emissions onboard power generation.

Airbus and its partners DLR and Michelin carried out the test flight in Toulouse in February on the German aerospace institute DLR's A320 flying testbed, with the hydrogen and oxygen-based fuel cell generating up to 20kW to power the aircraft's back-up hydraulic circuit, an electric motor pump and the aircraft's ailerons.

"The system's robustness was confirmed at high gravity loads during turns and zero gravity manoeuvres with the fuel cells producing around 10 litres of pure water," says Airbus.

Airbus says the research project is ongoing and will be further developed in other areas such as emergency power systems and auxiliary power units and exploitation of the water by-product in water and wastewater systems.

The fuel cells trial was one of the first tasks for the DLR's recently introduced A320. The 11-year old ex-Niki A320 has replaced the organisation's ageing VFW 614 test-bed following conversion into an airborne laboratory.

Meanwhile, Boeing says it continues to work on a fuel cell demonstration aircraft at its research and technology centre in Madrid and that it expects to have a public demonstration flight "soon".

"This project has a different objective than the one described by Airbus. In our case, we want to demonstrate that the fuel cell can sustain by itself a manned flight."

"To that end, our demonstrator uses a Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell/lithium-ion battery hybrid system to power an electric motor, which is coupled to a conventional propeller. The fuel cell will provide all power for the cruise phase of flight while during takeoff and climb the system draws on lightweight lithium-ion batteries," says Boeing, adding that it is conducting additional research projects on fuel cell technology.

The trial was carried out on a German aerospace institute DLR's A320 flying testbed

Source: Flight International