Student Erasmus University helps build very first plane powered by liquid hydrogen

Last year, Erasmus University Rotterdam and Delft University of Technology agreed to intensify their existing partnership. Can Delft’s science students and Erasmus University’s social sciences and humanities students actually find common ground? What kind of complications do they run into, and when do these partnerships actually work out? The aeroplane designers of AeroDelft are already quite used to mixing things up. And what turns out? It’s not that hard. “It benefits the project.”

The mould of the fuselage of the world’s first liquid hydrogen-powered aeroplane? We’re talking students here, so naturally it has been propped up with empty beer crates. And the students don’t use expensive ovens to proof their glue, but polystyrene igloos in the toilet block.  The red brick hall near the Rotterdam airport of Zestienhoven is rather chilly. “Which is why we set up that igloo in the toilet block: that’s where the boiler for the central heating is, so the temperature’s slighter higher there than in the other areas,” says a smiling Sam Rutten (22), who studies Project Management at Delft University of Technology. In this article from Erasmus Magazine, EUR student Olivier van Haren and Sam Rutten tell more about their AeroDelft project.

Interdisciplinary composition AeroDelft

Rutten is working together with EUR student Olivier van Haren (24) and 44 other students on what’s intended to become the first aeroplane powered by liquid hydrogen. They are both on the AeroDelft management team. Van Haren, who’s doing a master’s in Accounting & Auditing at Erasmus School of Economics, is the first EUR student to become involved in this project – in the capacity of financial manager. He holds the purse strings, in other words. Their budget? “Close to one million.”

The AeroDelft team are working hard on the first prototype for the aeroplane: the ‘Phoenix PT’. Some guys are walking around wearing gas masks, while others are experimenting with spark generators (sounds like a taser) on different parts of the plane to see whether they block sparks effectively. “If any of those comes in contact with hydrogen, the whole thing will blow sky high,” says Van Haren. He knows how it works but refers to his colleague anyway, just to be sure. “Right, Sam?” he asks. Or: “I have to check with my colleague here, to see whether I’ve explained it correctly.” It turns out he’s right. “Hydrogen comes in two forms, gaseous and liquid. We’re building the first aeroplane to be powered by liquid hydrogen.”

If things go according to plan, the plane will be making its maiden flight in 2025. 

More information

Curious about the story of AeroSpace? Read the article in Erasmus Magazine.