Airbus has confirmed the rumors that it will be testing hydrogen propulsion using the world’s largest passenger jet, the A380. The European aerospace company confirmed its preference at a press conference today.
The A380 will be equipped with a hydrogen engine developed by CFM International, a partnership between Safran and General Electric. The engine is adjusted from a current-generation CFM engine that is changed to run on hydrogen. According to the partners, Safran and GE have millions of hours of hydrogen experience between them, making them perfect partners for this amazing project.
Airbus has set its sights on developing hydrogen propulsion aircraft by 2035 under its ZEROe project. While others peg their hopes for CO2 emission reduction on SAF and electric, Airbus has thrown its hat for hydrogen.
Airbus’ very first A380 to come out of the production line, MSN 001, is the airframe to have the honor of testing this groundbreaking technology. Since it was commissioned in April 2005, the ‘original’ A380 has remained with Airbus as a flying testbed and resumes to operate regular test flights for Airbus from Toulouse.
Now, while many A380 operators are consigning their aircraft to the annals of history, this special bird will have an essential role to play in the development of future aviation technology. Mathias Andriamisaina, Airbus ZEROe Demonstrator Leader, commented on the choice of aircraft, saying,
“The A380 MSN1 is an excellent flight laboratory platform for new hydrogen technologies. It’s a safe and reliable platform that is highly versatile to test a wide range of zero-emission technologies. In addition, the platform can comfortably accommodate the large flight test instrumentation that will be needed to analyse the performance of the hydrogen in the hydrogen-propulsion system.”
The superjumbo has a tremendous capacity inside the aircraft, more than appropriate for the four hydrogen tanks Airbus intends to store in its cabin. These four tanks will be made and delivered by Airbus’ two Zero-Emission Development Centres, one in Bremen, Germany, and the other in Nantes, France, as well as from Madrid. They will be nestled near the rear of the aircraft.
As well as the hydrogen tanks, the altered CFM combustion engine, and the liquid hydrogen distribution system, Airbus will be making a few more changes to the A380. While the manufacturer hasn’t shared exact details of these yet, they have said they will be adding cockpit changes, as well as a throttle for the test engine and screens displaying the key performance indicators for the tests.
Although the information from Airbus today is exciting, it’s going to be some time before we see MSN 001 taking off with its hydrogen engine in situ. The airplane needs some structural modifications to adjust both the test engine and the tanks, and plenty of on-the-ground testing will need to take place before it can fly.