|The Antares H3, the successor to the Antares DLR-H2. Click to enlarge.|
The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is developing the Antares H3, the next generation of its fuel-cell aircraft, in cooperation with Lange Research Aircraft GmbH. The Antares H3 is a higher-performance successor of the Antares DLR-H2, the first piloted aircraft capable of performing a complete flight powered by fuel cells alone (earlier post).
The Antares H3 will be designed to set new range and endurance benchmarks. The project started in August 2010 and the first flight is scheduled to take place in 2011.
Technically, the new aircraft is based upon the Antares 20E as well as the fuel-cell powered Antares DLR-H2. The Lange Aviation Antares 20E is a self-launching motorized glider with battery-powered electrical propulsion, which has been in series production since 2004. In the hydrogen version, fuel cells replace the batteries.
In 2010, the project partners tested how fuel cells perform in aviation using a flying test-bed, the Antares DLR-H2. During one of these tests, an altitude record of 2,560 meters (8,399 feet) was set. The Antares H3 will demonstrate significantly increased performance—the developers plan to achieve a range of up to 6,000 kilometers (3,728 miles) and endurance of more than 50 hours. For the Antares H2, these values were 700 kilometers (435 miles) and 5 hours respectively.
The aircraft will have a wingspan of 23 meters (75 feet), a maximum takeoff weight of 1.25 metric tons, and it will carry payloads of up to 200 kilograms. The aircraft will use four external pods to house the fuel cells and fuel. The DLR-H2 uses two external pods for fuel cells and fuel.
DLR’s Institute of Technical Thermodynamics (Institut für Technische Thermodynamik) will assemble the modular fuel-cell system and perform the technical evaluation. Lange Research Aircraft GmbH is responsible for the overall integration and for operating the aircraft. The project is being supported by the German Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development (Bundesministerium für Verkehr, Bau und Stadtentwicklung; BMVBS) in the framework of a national innovation programme for hydrogen and fuel cell technology (Nationale Innovationsprogramm Wasserstoff- und Brennstoffzellentechnologie).
The optimized flight qualities and the simple handling will allow the Antares to fly both piloted and, at a later point in the development, unmanned. As an unmanned aerial vehicle, the Antares H3 could perform numerous tasks, for example, Earth observation and surveying. As a first cooperative step towards a commercial product, the developers at Lange and DLR have set their sights on the maiden flight, which is planned for 2011.
DLR is also developing fuel-cell systems intended to replace the current generation of auxiliary power units in airliners such as the Airbus A320.