For the first time in the history of aviation, Boeing flew a manned fuel cell powered vehicle. Three test flights took place in February and March 2008 at the airfield in Ocana, south of Madrid, Spain. During the test flights, a two-seat Dimona motor-glider with a 16.3 meter wingspan was used as the airframe. You know what fuel cells are, right? You don’t? Ok. Fuel cells are devices that use hydrogen and oxygen as their input to produce electricity. That’s the most simple and the most reasonable explanation possible. Fuel cells are made of PEM membranes (proton exchange membranes), and their secondary output besides energy is water. So they gather the energy that is generated by joining hydrogen and oxygen (to produce water).
This experimental plane, that they have been working on for about five years, is a very light modified aircraft, with an electric engine and a regular propeller. The plane flew at an altitude of about 1km above sea level using a combination of battery power and fuel cell power. After reaching the cruise altitude and disconnecting the batteries, the pilot flew straight and level at a cruising speed of 100 kilometers per hour for approximately 20 minutes solely on power generated by the fuel cells. Although the takeoff required the use of a regular engine, it is still considered by many in the industry as a remarkable feat.
Still, Boeing said they don’t see this solution as a full replacement to the current regular engines, but they have plans to implement it as a backup/alternative energy solution in their future planes.
I’m sure Boeing didn’t ever plan to make the airplanes it makes today 50 years ago, and they surely aren’t going to be able to predict what they’ll do 20 years from now. Humanity didn’t ever dream to have video phones equipped with a GPS, camera device and video projector, but they are all now reality. The quality of life will surely change with the energy revolution that’s about to happed quietly in the following years. Unless we are all going to starve and use the petrol as primary source of fuel. And that will happen only because some say so.
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