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As early as 1956 experiments took place in the USA with a hydrogen powered Canberra bomber. The Russians experimented with a triple engined Tupolev Tu-154 which first flew in 1988. Just one of its three engines was powered by hydrogen. At the start of the 1990s DaimlerChrysler Aerospace/Airbus of Germany and Russia's Tupolev began work on a project named Cryoplane for hydrogen powered aircraft propulsion systems. The plan was to initially develop a demonstrator, hydrogen powered, modified Dornier 328JET aircraft but by 1999 the project had been halted because of high costs. The project was relaunched in April 2000 with 35 companies from 11 European Union member countries working on a two year preliminary study of hydrogen powered aircraft propulsion systems. EIADS Airbus are leading the project.
It is likely that people's fear of hydrogen as a fuel will have to be overcome. Ever since the Hindenburg and other hydrogen filled airship crashes people have had a fear of the explosive properties of hydrogen as a fuel. In fact hydrogen is a safer fuel than kerosene. In the event of a crash, freed hydrogen fuel will rise quickly and any fire will result in an upward pointing flare whereas kerosene will form a wide carpet of flame around a crashed aircraft. Moreover, hydrogen is very fast burning with very low radiation of heat and its combustion products are non-toxic. Many people forget that when the Hindenburg caught fire in a landing accident it did not explode and of the 97 passengers and crew on board 62 survived.
Significant advances in fuel cell propulsion system technologies are necessary just to make a fuel cell powered transport aircraft possible. Even with 25-30 year projected fuel cell propulsion improvements, a fuel cell based system is much heavier than conventional aircraft propulsion and advances in airframe technology are needed to offset propulsion system weight penalties.