Electrification of Aircraft – Big Bets from Boeing, Airbus and NASA
‘Electrification of aircraft’ is getting a serious push with big weights such as Boeing, Airbus, NASA, Siemens seriously involved in or backing such projects.
On 5th Oct 2017, Boeing unveiled news to acquire Aurora Flight Sciences.
Among many other R&D projects, Aurora is also involved in the development of ‘electric propulsion systems’ for VTOL aircraft.
Boeing has also backed Zunum Aero, a startup that plans to bring hybrid-electric passenger aircraft to market by 2022.
In 2008, Boeing had successfully test flown the world’s first fuel-cell powered aircraft. It was part of Boeing’s Fuel Cell Demonstrator Airplane project.
In 2012, Boeing had also put forward another hybrid aircraft concept ‘Sugar Volt‘.
In 2015, a single-seat small experimental aircraft with hybrid electric engine propulsion system took flight in UK. This project was led by University of Cambridge and sponsored by Boeing.
Airbus is also betting big on ‘electrification of aircraft’. Airbus’ ‘E-Aircraft System House’ mainly outlooks Airbus’ electric aircraft activities.
The company has devised clear targets and roadmap for future hybrid/electric propulsion systems towards ‘electrification of aircraft’ into 3 power categories:
1. Hundreds of kilowatts: For applications such as helicopters and UAVs;
2. Up to 2 megawatts: Mainly for intra-urban air vehicles (such as Vahana – which is also backed by Airbus and the company aims to fly a full-size prototype before the end of 2017, and to have a producible demonstrator by 2020);
3. 10 to 20 megawatts: For regional passenger aircraft (such as for E-Fan family)
Airbus expects that a 50-100 seat hybrid-electric aircraft will become a reality by 2035.
Other major companies and organizations such as NASA, Siemens (Extra EA-300 Project),European Comission (ENvironmentally Friendly Inter City Aircraft powered by Fuel Cells (ENFICA-FC) Program) Uber (Uber Elevate program) are also putting their weight behind the ‘electrification of aircraft’.