Flying with fuel cells

US inventor James P Dunn is planning to mark the centenary of the Wright Brother’s original flight with a fuel-cell plane.

We’ve had fuel cell cars, mobile phones and even fuel cell vacuum cleaners, but now US inventor James P Dunn is planning to mark the centenary of the Wright Brother’s original flight with a fuel-cell plane.

Dunn’s E-Plane, an all carbon French DynAero Lafayette III built and donated by American Ghiles Aircraft, is being converted from a combustion engine to electric propulsion in three stages.

The first flights, planned for next year, will be on lithium ion batteries, the next flights will be powered by a combination of lithium ion batteries augmented by a fuel cell, and, finally, the aircraft will be powered totally by a hydrogen fuel cell, with a range of over 500 miles.

Whilst there are no plans to take the aircraft into commercial production, Dunn, executive director of non-profit organisation FASTec (Foundation for Advancing Science and Technology Education), believes that wider use of fuel cells will eventually bring the cost of building an electric aircraft ‘down to earth’.

‘The plane would be flying by now if we had sufficient funding.’ says Dunn, and recent world events have done little to alleviate this. But, says Dunn, ‘not all projects are driven by funding alone. Crazy people like myself will still dream up new ideas and concepts, but fewer of them will be implemented and become practical devices.’

‘Our biggest hurdle today,’ he continues, ‘is the security ‘hold’ placed on many airports. We’re still waiting for permission to go to our hangar. We’ve been locked out since the 11th September.’

Dunn says that E-planes will be ideal for both transportation and military stealth applications.

FASTec is investigating using similar technology on other projects, including for onboard power on the CarterCopter gyroplane, a craft that takes off and lands like a helicopter but flies at the speed of a small jet. Key partners in the project include battery supplier SAFT and Lockwood Aviation.